New Film Raises The Profile Of Sage Brush "Drive-Through" Country

May 22, 2015

A new documentary is airing on Idaho Public Television Friday. The "Sage Brush Sea" was filmed at different locations across the 11-state sage brush ecosystem, including in Idaho. The producers of the film are trying to raise the profile of this landscape, and the struggling sage grouse it supports.

The film opens to a snowy winter scene somewhere in the West's expansive rangeland. A male greater sage grouse comes into view, and begins his idiosyncratic mating display, complete with the bird's characteristic "blooping" sounds and decorative feathers.

Marc Dantzker is the producer of the documentary. He used to study the grouse as a biologist, and has followed the story of the bird's declining habitat for 20 years. Dantzker says the sage brush ecosystem – which doesn't feature the mountains or rivers that are so revered by people in the West – is undervalued.

"Some people think it's a 'big empty,' drive-through country," says Dantzker. "And we wanted to show it to people as a valuable ecosystem that's alive and just simply raise regard for the place."

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares to make a decision about whether or not to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act later this year, the documentary's timing is intentional.

"We thought that the bird and the ecosystem need a little good press," he says. "Wherever it's been talked about it's been talked about as a fancy chicken dancing in the way of economic development."

Dantzker says he wants the "Sage Brush Sea" to help groups that are working to save the bird. He says the collaboration happening across the West between conservationists, ranchers, federal and state agencies is unprecedented. He hopes the efforts will preclude the need for an Endangered Species Act listing.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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