Sage Grouse

Tony Morris / Flickr Creative Commons

Government scientists say a warming climate could significantly reduce the amount of greater sage grouse habitat in portions of Wyoming, a key stronghold for the troubled bird species.

The chicken-sized grouse already has seen dramatic declines in recent decades due to disease, oil drilling, grazing and other factors.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists said a warming climate could become an even greater risk, reducing nesting habitat by 12 percent by 2050.

sage grouse, wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Flickr Creative Commons

A group of Western-state governors has released a report on voluntary efforts in 11 states to conserve the habitat of sage grouse as part of an effort to avoid a federal listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

The 32-page "2014 Sage-Grouse Inventory" released Thursday by the Western Governors' Association identifies conservation work during the year and is accompanied by a 101-page appendix listing efforts since 2011.

In Nevada, federal wildlife officials have brokered a landmark conservation deal with a gold mining company that the government says could help protect thousands of acres of critical habitat for the greater sage grouse.

Aaron Maizlish / Flickr

Eleven biologists who study the greater sage grouse tell top federal officials the government isn't preparing to do enough to protect the ground-dwelling birds.

Greater sage grouse inhabit 11 states, including Idaho, and face federal protection because their numbers have declined dramatically over the past century.

In a letter Thursday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the 11 scientists say the federal government is abandoning science-based conservation of the birds.

Alan Krakauer / Flickr

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has released the initial plan for a new wildfire-fighting strategy to protect a wide swath of intermountain West sagebrush country that supports cattle ranching and is home to a struggling bird species.

The 27-page report released Tuesday calls for protecting areas most at risk by using veteran crews, rural fire departments and fire protection associations made up of ranchers who can respond quickly. The previous strategy didn't call for specific efforts to protect the habitat.

Bureau of Land Management Oregon/Washington

The Idaho Department of Lands has proposed conservation practices to protect sage grouse from mining as well as oil and gas development. According to a department press release, the draft plan works with Gov. Butch Otter's outline for sage grouse protection.

sage grouse, wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Flickr Creative Commons

Spending on a government-sponsored initiative to help struggling sage grouse populations in the West is projected to exceed $750 million by 2018.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday the money will conserve an estimated 8 million acres of sage grouse habitat. Federal officials are more than halfway to that goal since starting the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010.

The chicken-sized birds are found in 11 Western states. They're being considered for federal protections after their numbers plummeted in recent decades.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to remove Western juniper from a 1.5 million-acre area of public land in southwest Idaho to conserve sage grouse habitat.

BLM Boise District Manager Jim Fincher in a statement Friday says conserving habitat for sage grouse is a key method for improving an entire rangeland ecosystem.

The agency is hosting two public meetings to provide information about the plan in Owyhee County. The first is in Boise on Feb. 4 and the second in Murphy on Feb. 5.

Comments can also be sent to the agency by Feb. 20.

Tony Morris / Flickr Creative Commons

A Boise State University professor will help decide the future of fire management on greater sage grouse habitat.

Political science and public policy professor John Freemuth is part of a national group of experts who will report to the new Rangeland Fire Task Force. This week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell created the task force.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is calling for a new wildfire-fighting strategy that protects sagebrush country in the intermountain West that supports cattle ranching as well as a struggling bird species.

She issued an order Tuesday seeking a "science-based" strategy that safeguards the greater sage grouse while contending with fires that have been especially destructive in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.

Tony Morris / Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking Indian tribes, government agencies and others to submit information about conservation efforts for the greater sage grouse.

The service said Monday it needs the best data possible to make a decision on whether the bird warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Congress has barred the federal government from spending money on rules to protect the bird, but the Fish and Wildlife Service says it is still bound by a court order to reach a decision by September on whether a listing is warranted.

New research could have implications for cattle and sheep grazing in the habitat of a ground-dwelling bird that environmentalists say needs federal protection across the Rocky Mountain region.

A study published in the December issue of Wildlife Biology examines the relationship between nesting success by the greater sage grouse and the height of grass nearby.

Environmental groups including WildEarth Guardians say the study is cause for concern about livestock grazing in sage grouse habitat. Others say grazing can improve habitat for sage grouse.

USFWS

The future of the greater sage grouse, already uncertain, may get even murkier because Congress is considering delaying protections for the Western bird.

Congress is considering a $1.1 trillion spending bill that would keep the federal government from shutting down. A legislative rider in the bill would put the brakes on protecting the bird.

sage grouse, wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Flickr Creative Commons

The directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management say a listing of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act can be avoided.

Dan Ashe of Fish and Wildlife and Neil Kornze of BLM made the comments Thursday in Boise as some of the nation's top federal land managers and rangeland scientists gathered at a conference to find ways to protect sage grouse habitat from massive wildfires.

In the last decade huge swaths of sage brush range the birds depend on have been destroyed by wildfires that often involve fire-prone invasive plants.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The New York Times reports more than two dozen energy projects in the West have been scuttled because of sage grouse, at least one of those projects was supposed to be built in Idaho.

The sage grouse represents a much bigger challenge for states like Idaho than its turkey-like stature might suggest. The bird is considered an important part of the high desert ecosystem, but it's sensitive to man-made development and its numbers are declining.

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