From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 40 - December 31, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Sage grouse petitioned for listing

Twenty conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club, submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Greater Sage Grouse as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

The species has suffered declines of 45 percent to 80 percent over the past 20 years due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Today, the total sage grouse population is estimated at 140,000 individuals, representing only about 8 percent of historic numbers.

"The sage grouse is a valuable game bird, as well as an important part of America's outdoor heritage, and we must seek to reverse its decline using all the tools available," said Mike Smith, chairman of the Sierra Club's Wildlife and Endangered Species Committee. "The Endangered Species Act is one of those tools."

The sage grouse is a striking and charismatic bird that inhabits sagebrush ecosystems in nine western states. The dependence of the species on vast areas of healthy sagebrush habitat makes it the proverbial "canary in the coal mine."

Wherever sage grouse struggle to survive, the landscape has suffered serious ecological damage.

The species' historic range closely conforms to the distribution of tall and short sagebrush on the prairie sagebrush steppe (what the groups call the "Sagebrush Sea") covering parts of 16 western states and three Canadian provinces. Since 1900, however, the distribution of sage grouse has been greatly reduced, with extirpation of populations at the periphery of their range. Sage grouse no longer occur in Arizona, British Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico or Oklahoma.

Remaining sage grouse populations suffer from habitat degradation caused by urban and agricultural conversion, invasive species, altered fire regimes, unsustainable livestock grazing and other causes. New threats such as increased energy development on the Rocky Mountain Front, persistent drought and the West Nile encephalitis virus found in sage grouse in Montana and Wyoming threaten to reduce populations even more.

"The Bush Administration has prioritized resource extraction over conservation on public lands, which has increased the pressure on sage grouse populations now contending with West Nile disease, drought and all the hardships associated with degraded habitat," said Mark Salvo, grasslands and deserts advocate for American Lands Alliance.

Recovery and protection of sage grouse, an umbrella species for the Sagebrush Sea, and restoration of sagebrush habitat would benefit a family of other sensitive sagebrush obligate species in the West such as the sagebrush vole, sage sparrow, sagebrush lizard and pygmy rabbit.

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