Sage Grouse

About Them: Sage Grouse encompasses the Greater Sage Grouse and the Gunnison Sage Grouse both residents of the sagebrush steppe that ranges across 11 western states. These are the birds of paradise of the western North American plains. The males perform a dramatic show in open sagebrush called a ‘lek’ from March to May to convince females they should be chosen for breeding. The males make a sound by flapping and popping their chest air sacks that sounds like a human not quite making the water drip noise that Cameron makes in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Here’s a link.

These birds are part of the family Phasianidae grouping them with Turkeys, pheasants, ptarmagans, other grouse, and prairie-chickens.

Gunnison Sage Grouse are about 1/3 the size of the Greater Sage Grouse.

Their plight: Habitat loss is the key issue for these birds. They live across a vast generally open space that has a high volume of natural resources within. They are in constant competition with humans for right to use the land. Unlike some species this is not a species that can handle the high tole of human disruption on their land. It may seem like a small thing to build one station in a 10,000 acre space, but that includes light pollution, sound pollution, dust, introduction of invasive plants, and land fragmentation.

The juniper and pinyon trees are also reaching farther into sagebrush steppes. Wildfires used to mitigate their reach. However, as we have suppressed wildfires the land plants have changed.

What we should consider: While these birds are not currently listed as Endangered I put them on my list because their protection is a really interesting story involving cooperation between a wide range of group beliefs to actually do their best to protect these birds. In 2015 during the Obama administration they decided not to list the Greater Sage Grouse as endangered because of a massive locally written plan to conserve the habitat for this bird while still allowing for economic growth to the states affected. Much of that has been disrupted by new regulations from the current administration, it unwinds enough of the interwoven work between all the groups’ interests to make these birds much more in danger. Imperiling these birds will also cause problems for the other 300+ species that inhabit the sagebrush steppe.

The struggle to balance human progress and natural landscapes is the great problem of our time. We want so much energy for all of our convenience making devices. We have to find a method for creating that energy somewhere. Even when we build solar farms or wind farms we disrupt the land there too. It may be better for humans with consideration to toxins released into the environment, but that needs more research for me to say with certainty. Ultimately we should consider making our culture need less energy.

We humans are a large population now and everyone deserves a chance to make a decent income for themselves. Currently some of the best jobs in these regions are in the gas and oil industry. How do you manage the needs of the people and the needs of the wildlife? It seems like that had been handled ok in 2015. Compromise is the only way through.

What is being done: Consideration for what land parcels are available for sale when being purchased for oil and gas operations, land that is integral to the Sage Grouse is not meant to be sold to such industries. Continued counts of the birds to watch the species population trends which can be used when putting forth evidence for greater protections. New methods for counting are being discovered, finding and counting the grouse poop through genetic testing is less disruptive to the birds, but not yet cost effective.

How to help: Reduce your energy consumption. Don’t leave devices plugged in all day, use a clothing line instead of a dryer, don’t run the dry cycle on your dishwasher, turn off lights when you leave a room. As you can update your house to use solar energy and other non gas and oil energy sources.

Continue bringing awareness. Call into state senators when legislation is being passed that could affect the continued support of policy that protects wildlife and waterways. Currently there are a lot of actions Support locally.

Support can be:

  • donating to science groups
  • helping to ensure funding to the organizations that creating breeding programs
  • being a citizen scientist through
    • land restoration project
    • trash clean ups
    • species counts
    • bio blitzes
  • getting people you know excited about how incredible our planet’s biodiversity is.

Joining your local Audubon Society or other local conservation group is a great first step into finding activities and ways to become a citizen scientist and environmental advocate.

Further Reading, my sources:

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