Saving the Sage Grouse

The greater sage grouse is under threat. Its population has shrunk by more than 90 percent in the last century. Scientists say wildfire, invasive species, energy development and other human activities are to blame. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide if the bird will be added to the Endangered Species List.

Boise State Public Radio will explore the issue in a series of reports we're calling Saving the Sage Grouse. Our five in-depth stories will introduce you to the unique species at the heart of the issue, look at unusual collaborations to help the bird, and explore if those steps will be enough to keep the animal from being listed.

Our series begins on Tuesday, September 8 during Morning Edition on KBSX 91.5 FM.

We will also be hosting a Community Conversation for Saving the Sage Grouse. The event will take place Wednesday, September 16 at 6 p.m. on the first floor of the Yanke Family Research Park, located at 220 E. Parkcenter Boulevard in Boise. You can RSVP for the event here.

Dan Dzurisin / Flickr Creative Commons

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the much-anticipated decision on Twitter Tuesday morning, using the hashtag #WildlifeWin.

“Because of an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners  across 11 western states," says Sec. Jewell in a video, "the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the greater sage grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

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

The U.S. Interior Department says the greater sage grouse does not need federal protections across its 11-state Western range after some limits were put on energy development and other activities.

Tuesday's announcement signals that the Obama administration believes it has struck a balance to save the widespread, ground-dwelling birds from extinction without crippling the West's economy.

Lacey Daley / Boise State Public Radio

On September 16, 2015 KBSX hosted four panelists and a room full of community members for a discussion on the possible Endangered Species Listing of the greater sage grouse. Experts shared their favorite facts about the bird, reasons for the population decline in the last century and the methods and strategies behind the collaborative efforts of state groups and agencies to protect the species. 

Julie Rose

Alarm bells echoed across the West in 2010 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned that the greater sage grouse could be put on the Endangered Species List. The end of this month is the deadline for a final decision. In the interim, there has been an enormous amount of work done to protect the bird – enough to suggest a threat is sometimes big enough to get the job done.

Could this have been the intent all along? To make the threat big enough so that an actual listing might be avoided?

Grace Hood

The federal government will decide whether or not to list the greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List later this month. Another sage grouse species, the Gunnison sage grouse, has been on that list since last November. The government followed a distinct and separate process for the Gunnison grouse, classifying it as “threatened”.

Dan Boyce

About 170 greater sage grouse gather on Wes McStay’s ranch in northwestern Colorado.  They're here to mate in an open field of recently-planted rye.

Biologists call such a gathering a lek, where male grouse perform an elaborate mating dance that involves inflating two yellow air sacs in their chests and then releasing the air with a bubbling pop. 

The national sage grouse coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service watches the spectacle, her gloved hands holding binoculars tightly to her face.

Larry Moore / BLM Vale District

In May, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stepped up to the podium at a press conference in Boise. The smell of damp sagebrush was in the air, and the foothills in the background were green – a rare sight in the high desert. Jewell then cut to the chase:

“Fire is the number one threat to this ecosystem in the Great Basin states,” said the Obama administration cabinet member.

Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation / BLM

Brian Maxfield is a wildlife conservation biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. And he's a bit of a voyeur.

Back in the spring, Maxfield strapped transmitters to about a dozen greater sage grouse in northeastern Utah. His goal? To spy on them.

Each bird’s every move is now a mosaic of color-coded dots on a clipboard he keeps in his pickup. Today, he’s honing in on the blue dot. And he’s worried.

Nick Myatt / Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Over the last few months you’ve heard a number of reports about a species of bird that lives in Idaho and 10 other western states. The greater sage grouse is in the spotlight as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides whether the bird merits listing under the Endangered Species Act. If the grouse is listed, it could have devastating effects on the regional economy.