sage grouse

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The clock is ticking about whether to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species.  Such a listing could all but shut down mineral development in the bird’s habitat.  The state has already tackled sage grouse protections.  Now it’s the federal government’s turn.  It’s been 30 years since the Lander Resource Management Plan was revised.  And so the Bureau of Land Management took the opportunity to put more protections in place for the grouse while they were at it. 

The Lander Resource Management Plan is hundreds of pages and covers a lot of ground. 

Wikipedia

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new plan for land use in the Wind River Basin today/Thursday, which supporters say balances the needs of industry, conservation, and recreation.

The new Resource Management Plan is the result of a cooperative process involving federal, state, and local agencies as well as land owners and recreation enthusiasts.

Wyoming representative for The Wilderness Society, Dan Smitherman, says that the plan’s release does not mean that the conversation about how best to use these lands is over.

A 5000-well oil and gas project proposed for the Powder River Basin is drawing sharp criticism from a wildlife advocacy group.  Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians says the drilling would take place right in the middle of critical sage grouse habitat.

“Well, the 5000 wells are projected in an area of over a million acres to the north of Douglas, stretching all the way up in the Thunder Basin National Grassland and including several core areas that have been proposed priority habitat for sage grouse,” Molvar says.

Sage grouse in Wyoming could get new protections, if a Bureau of Land Management plan is adopted.

The agency is proposing to cap the amount of disturbance that can happen on public land where the bird lives, and to impose other rules designed to protect sage grouse habitat.

The BLM’s Lisa Solberg Schwab says part of their plan involves adopting the core area strategy that Wyoming has already established.

Willow Belden

When energy development happens on public lands, companies have to reclaim the land. That means restoring the landscape after it’s been disturbed. But exactly what’s required varies from one part of the state to another. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports that agencies are making those rules more consistent, in hopes of helping keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.

The federal government released a new plan for managing sage grouse habitat in Wyoming on Friday. The Bureau of Land Management says the plan will allow for consistent policies across federal and state lands, while protecting the bird from an endangered species listing.

A new report questions the assumption that sage grouse dislike tall things.

It’s often assumed that the birds avoid tall structures, such as electrical poles or wind turbines, because they fear that predators could perch on top. But report co-author Karl Kosciuch says that’s not necessarily true. His team reviewed the existing scientific literature about how the birds respond to development, and they found no evidence one way or the other.

Wikipedia

A deal to allow oil and gas development in a sage grouse conservation area near Douglas met considerable resistance when it was announced last month. Environmental groups said it set a dangerous precedent, and showed the state isn’t serious about keeping the bird off the endangered species list. The state said it was a necessary compromise that protects sage grouse while respecting private mineral rights.

Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce takes a look at tensions in the state’s sage grouse conservation strategy, five years after its implementation.

Wikipedia

After what the state characterized as a knock-down, drag-out fight with Chesapeake Oil, it’s planning to allow drilling in a sage grouse conservation area.

The protected areas were established by executive order in 2011 in order to conserve critical sage grouse habitat, with the goal of keeping the bird off the endangered species list. The new plan modifies the protections in an area near Douglas where Chesapeake has oil and gas leases. 

The Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo office is hoping to ensure more rigorous protections for sage grouse in the area. It’s drafted a new Resource Management Plan – or land use plan – to replace the one that’s been in place since the 1980s.

The plan outlines four alternatives. Thomas Bills with the BLM says the agency’s preferred alternative would incorporate the governor’s Core Area strategy, which limits development in prime sage grouse breeding areas.

One of the main things that threatens sage grouse is human development and fragmentation of their habitat. But another big worry is West Nile Virus.

The disease is carried by mosquitoes, and researchers are now testing a new method for keeping mosquitoes in check. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Brad Fedy, who’s leading the project. He says West Nile Virus is a major concern for sage grouse.

Researchers are testing a new method to keep mosquitoes under control, in order to reduce the risk of sage grouse contracting West Nile Virus.

They’re introducing non-invasive fat-head minnows into stock ponds in northeastern Wyoming, because the fish like to eat mosquito larvae.

Brad Fedy is leading the project. He says fish may turn out to be a better solution than traditional larvicides, because you’d only have to introduce them once, rather than spraying an area annually.

Last year, we reported on a new project to restore sage grouse habitat that’s been disturbed by energy development in the Powder River Basin. The Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies are participating in the effort.

A project to restore sage grouse habitat in the Powder River Basin is moving forward.

The Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies are participating. Their goal is to focus on areas with abandoned gas wells and make those areas hospitable for sage grouse again, by planting sage brush and removing roads and power lines.

The BLM’s Bill Ostheimer says many landowners and local groups have been receptive to the idea. But he says it could be years before sage grouse move back into areas they were displaced from.

Study examines sage grouse requirements in winter

May 29, 2013

A study by the Wyoming chapter of the Wildlife Society found that sage grouse don’t do well if there’s human activity near their winter habitats.

The group’s president, Tony Mong, says it’s well known that sage grouse avoid things like oil and gas wells, but they now know that the birds are also sensitive to people doing things nearby.

He says that knowledge should guide the energy industry’s activities in sage grouse areas.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey documents how much human disturbance sage grouse can tolerate, and report co-author Steve Knick says the amount is very low.

He says most active leks, or breeding grounds, are in areas where less than three-percent of the land is developed.

Knick says the study shows that Wyoming is on the right track with its core area policy.

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey looks at the ecological conditions that sage grouse need in order to survive, and the amount of human disturbance they can tolerate. We’re joined now by Steve Knick, one of the report’s authors. He says the goal was to determine the basic requirements that sage grouse have.

Click here to view the full report.

New report seeks to help states protect sage grouse

Mar 29, 2013

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report that’s meant to help states figure out how to protect sage grouse and keep them off the endangered species list. 

Bob Budd with the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust helped put the report together. He says the document provides information about the key threats to sage grouse, but leaves it up to states to develop or revise their conservation plans.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a new plan that would give farmers and ranchers certain legal protections, if they undertake sage-grouse conservation efforts. 

The plan is called the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, or CCAA. It encourages farmers and ranchers to protect the sage-grouse on their property by shifting cattle away from nesting areas and taking other conservation measures. In return, they would get a commitment that they won’t have to do anything more should the bird become officially endangered.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming conducting a study to figure out whether sage grouse core areas provide benefits to other species.

The group’s Matt Kauffman says it’s commonly assumed that the answer is yes.

“This is part of what ecologists call the umbrella species concept – that by protecting one species you can protect other species that use a similar habitat,” Kauffman said.

The Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is getting started with a new study about sage grouse core areas. Matt Kauffman heads the group, and he joins us now to talk about the study. Matt, tell us what you’re trying to find out.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are offering a new incentive to get farmers and ranchers to protectcertain species – including sage grouse – on their properties.

Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman says they want ranchers to do things like shifting their grazing patterns, in order to preserve sage grouse habitat. If a rancher signs on, he or she would get certain protections, if sage grouse end up on the Endangered Species List.

Conservation groups are welcoming a federal report spelling out how sage grouse should be managed in 11 Western states to avoid new federal protections.
 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's draft report advises the states and federal land management agencies to act immediately to stop the loss of sage grouse habitat and populations.
 
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2010 that sage grouse deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency pledged to make a final listing decision by late 2015.
 

A new study has determined which areas within the Atlantic Rim oil and gas field near Rawlins are most important for sage grouse.

The study’s author, Chris Kirol, was a grad student in the University of Wyoming’s Department of Ecosystems Science and Management. He says they put radio collars on sage grouse to track which areas they liked and which areas they avoided.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking all Wyoming residents to report dead sage grouse they find so the birds can be tested for West Nile virus.

Sage grouse have low resistance to the disease and it usually kills infected birds.

Tom Christiansen with Game and Fish says there is no sign yet of an outbreak in the state this year.A recent limited survey in the Powder River Basin detected only low numbers of a particular type of mosquito known to carry the disease.

As we’ve just heard, there’s a lot of concern over declining sage grouse numbers. And a lot of effort is going into keeping the birds from being included on the endangered species list. Part of that effort involves studying which aspects of human activity are most problematic. A new study published in the journal Conservation Biology examines how human-made noise – particularly the noise associated with gas development – affects sage grouse. We’re joined now by Jessica Blickley, one of the authors of the report.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is planning to make most of northeast Wyoming off limits to sage grouse hunting. Tom Christiansen, the agency’s sage grouse coordinator, says that’s because of public concern about declining populations in the area.

“We do hear concerns about, ‘Well, why are you continuing to hunt when sage grouse populations, especially in some parts of the state, like northeast Wyoming, are declining and are proposed for listing?” Christiansen said.

A new report by researchers at the University of Montana warns that unless energy development slows down, sage grouse populations in the Powder River Basin could die out. The study, which was commissioned by the BLM, was meant to determine whether the sage grouse population there can survive, given current oil and gas drilling activities, and what would happen to the birds if more drilling occurred or if there were new West Nile Virus outbreaks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Dave Naugle, who co-authored the report. He says the sage grouse population in the Powder River Basin has already declined by 82 percent as a result of energy development.

A new report commissioned by the BLM warns that unless energy development in the Powder River Basin slows down, sage grouse populations there could die out.

Dave Naugle of the University of Montana co-authored the report. He says the sage grouse population in the Powder River Basin has already declined by 82 percent as a result of oil and gas drilling, and he says a disease outbreak similar to recent West Nile Virus occurrences could mean that fewer than 100 males would be left. That, Naugle says, “would functionally mean that that population could go extinct. ”

    As the Bureau of Land Management begins to offer greater protections for Sage Grouse, those in the conservation community are welcoming the news.  Steve Holmer with the American Bird Conservancy says with the Sage Grouse listed as a candidate for Endangered Species Act Protection the new approach is overdue.  

Holmer-"You know, I think to their credit, BLM is trying to get ahead of this issue. We’re pleased to see the BLM adopt this strategy – they’re on the right track."

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