Sage Grouse

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter spoke forcefully about observing the “rule of law” in his first comments on the armed protesters in adjacent eastern Oregon.

Ann Kennedy / USDA

Federal officials from Washington D.C. and state leaders from around the Northwest have traveled to Boise, Idaho for a unique kind of meeting this week. Scientists and policymakers will try to get to the root of (quite literally) one of the greatest challenges the West faces.

Courtney Flatt / Northwest Public Radio

The sagebrush ecosystem is in trouble — thanks to invasive species and wildfires, which have damaged much of the land in the West. Now, to help restore some recently burned areas, inmates from central Washington are planting sagebrush that has been grown in prisons.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Just three days after federal officials decided not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's office and the Idaho Legislature has announced the state filed a lawsuit. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Obama administration’s decision Tuesday not to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species rippled across the West. Many came out in favor of the decision, saying it represents a big victory for wildlife conservation. But in Idaho, the reaction to the news was far-ranging... and the issue likely isn’t over.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Sage Grouse Not Listed Under Endangered Species Act

Sep 22, 2015
Jeannie Stafford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / / Flickr Creative Commons

The Interior Department’s announcement that there will be no federal protection for the greater sage grouse caps years of controversy and uncertainty over one of the West’s most difficult environmental problems.

Alarm bells echoed across the West in 2010 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned that the greater sage grouse could be put on the Endangered Species List. The end of this month is the deadline for a final decision. In the interim, there has been an enormous amount of work done to protect the bird – enough to suggest a threat is sometimes big enough to get the job done.

Could this have been the intent all along? To make the threat big enough so that an actual listing might be avoided?

The federal government will decide whether or not to list the greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List later this month. Another sage grouse species, the Gunnison sage grouse, has been on that list since last November. The government followed a distinct and separate process for the Gunnison grouse, classifying it as “threatened”.

About 170 greater sage grouse gather on Wes McStay’s ranch in northwestern Colorado.  They're here to mate in an open field of recently-planted rye.

Biologists call such a gathering a lek, where male grouse perform an elaborate mating dance that involves inflating two yellow air sacs in their chests and then releasing the air with a bubbling pop. 

In May, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stepped up to the podium at a press conference in Boise. The smell of damp sagebrush was in the air, and the foothills in the background were green – a rare sight in the high desert. Jewell then cut to the chase:

“Fire is the number one threat to this ecosystem in the Great Basin states,” said the Obama administration cabinet member.

Brian Maxfield is a wildlife conservation biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. And he's a bit of a voyeur.

Back in the spring, Maxfield strapped transmitters to about a dozen greater sage grouse in northeastern Utah. His goal? To spy on them.

Each bird’s every move is now a mosaic of color-coded dots on a clipboard he keeps in his pickup. Today, he’s honing in on the blue dot. And he’s worried.

Courtney Flatt / EarthFix

The plight of greater sage grouse is at the top of mind for ranchers, conservationists and politicians across the West — so much so that one ranch in southeastern Oregon has put a wildlife biologist on its payroll.

Sage Grouse Development Rules Passed in Oregon

Jul 29, 2015
CREDIT PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Oregon is one step closer to putting together a plan to protect greater sage grouse. The state passed new rules Monday to help guide large scale development near important habitat in Eastern Oregon. The turkey-sized bird is uniting ranchers and conservationists in an effort to keep it off the Endangered Species List.

Historically, sage grouse spanned 11 western states. Good habitat throughout those states has become greatly fragmented by things like invasive weeds, wildfire, encroaching juniper trees and development.

BLM Proposes Sage Grouse Protection Plans

May 28, 2015
Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington

The BLM is proposing actions like improving habitat, managing fire more carefully, and preventing habitat fragmentation.

Dan Morse is with the Oregon Natural Desert Association. He's pleased that the plan calls for protections for two of the state’s most important habitat strongholds.

“Our hope is that those protections will be meaningful. That being said we cannot only focus on those large areas. Because disconnecting sage grouse populations is a sure recipe for their extirpation,” says Morse.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

A plan to poison 3,500 ravens in Idaho won’t proceed this year as state wildlife managers had hoped. The idea is to stop the ravens from eating the eggs of the imperiled sage grouse. Conservation groups call it a ridiculous scheme. An online petition against the plan has received more than 60,000 signatures.

Oregon Landowners Agree To Protect Sage Grouse

May 21, 2014
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One county in Southeastern Oregon has announced one of the largest land conservation agreements in the state to protect greater sage grouse. The birds live in sagebrush country, but their habitat is shrinking because of people, wildfires and invasive species.

Pacific Southwest Region/Flickr

The West’s greater sage grouse are in trouble. The birds make their homes in desert sagebrush country. But their habitat is shrinking because of people, wildfires, and agriculture. With fewer wide-open places to live, sage grouse numbers are dwindling.

Study: Sage Grouse Habitat Slow To Rebound After Fire

Mar 25, 2014
USFWS

A new study suggests creating livable habitat for the dwindling sage grouse may be trickier than originally thought. Wildfires have been tearing through the bird's territory in the West. Now, federal researchers find even 20 years after a fire, the ecology is still not up to sage grouse standards.

New Draft Plans To Conserve Greater Sage Grouse

Nov 25, 2013
Pacific Southwest Region/Flickr

Federal officials Friday released a draft plan to protect habitat for greater sage grouse in parts of the Northwest. Sage grouse numbers have been dwindling as their habitat decreases.

Photo credit Wikimedia Commons

BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho lawmakers are looking for ways to reverse the decline in the state’s dwindling sage grouse population. They’re worried that if the state doesn’t act, the federal government will impose its own plan to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act. Aaron Kunz reports.