Sage grouse are being considered for protection as an endangered or threatened species. Based on a court-ordered settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has until 2015 to make its decision. The Endangered Species Act allows for listing a species if there is current or potential destruction of its habitat or range. Last week the FWS announced that it proposes to list greater sage grouse in Nevada and California as threatened.
Listing of sage grouse as an endangered species could halt or significantly reduce oil and gas operations over a huge swath of the western US–the map below shows the current (green) and probable historic range (red). One side of the story is there is a lot of sage grouse range; on the other side, there is less than in the past.
Currently, greater sage-grouse are found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The total US population was estimated at 100,000 to 500,000 in 2005.
The main factors that negatively impact sage grouse habitat are considered to be habitat loss and fragmentation caused by: urbanization, agriculture, livestock grazing, management tactics such as prescribed fires, and energy development. West Nile virus is also reducing sage-grouse populations.
Wyoming is home to about 54 percent of the Greater Sage-Grouse in the US, and much of that land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Federal, state and private groups in Wyoming, and other western states, are coordinating their efforts to conserve sage-grouse habitat, allow resource development, and keep the birds off the endangered species list. For example, in core sage-grouse habitat areas in Wyoming the state now allows only one well pad per square mile.
An interesting conundrum is that while being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, Wyoming has a sage-grouse hunting season. The rationale is that hunting does not negatively impact the bird populations as much as habitat destruction and fragmentation.