Sage grouse is an emblematic bird for North America. It’s been reigning high in the sagebrush steppe, but all that could come to an end.
Currently, there are anywhere in between 200,000 and 500,000 sage grouse birds roaming freely. Yet, as the rampant wildfires are winning more ground in the Great Basin region, the few hundred thousands birds existing today could fully disappear in 30-years time.
Against this background, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must take a decision by the end of the month regarding placing the sage grouse under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
It may be an emblematic bird for North America, but including the sage grouse on the protected species list to curb population decline would result in billions-dollar consequences.
Industry representatives, state officials and other key actors from the 11 western states that would be mostly affected by this decision are quite vocal about the repercussions should the sage grouse become a protected species. According to one study, the overall costs to the U.S. economic output would amount to 5.6 billion dollars.
This sum includes losses from oil and gas industry, mining, and energy development. All these industries would take a heavy blow as significant land parcels are saved to protect the habitat of the sage grouse. Grazing land would be included in an alleged proposal for managing the sage grouse population, or what’s left of it.
One account coming from Joel Bousman, Sublette County commissioner and cited by the NPR stated:
“When they listed the spotted owl in the Northwest, it literally devastated the counties and communities. Our fear here is it would have a similar impact on gas, grazing”.
Sage grouse live in the sagebrush steppe. For centuries, the leaves of the sagebrush have provided the birds with the strength needed during winter and before breeding season. Snow keeps them well-hydrated during harsh winters. Easily adaptable, the sage grouse is now endangered by wildfires and human action zeroing in on their natural environment.
Sagebrush is slowly diminishing its presence. Cheatgrass, sneaking in the sage steppe during the last hundred of years, burns rapidly when wildfires are loose in the Great Basin region. And while cheatgrass recovers fairly quickly, sagebrush is lost, sometimes forever.
From the 16 million sage grouse once upon a high, the population now counts as much as 500,000 birds. And that’s according to the more optimistic accounts.
Human activity is responsible for this demise too. With booming residential and infrastructure development, followed by energy and agriculture development and land being assigned to recreation activities, such as hunting, humans have meddled with the sage grouse habitat.
Until September 30th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take a decision regarding the future of the sage grouse.
Photo Credits: Flickr