Saving the Sage Grouse

By laceydaley

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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

Episode Date
In Idaho, Historic Sage Grouse Decision Garners Critics And Fans
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.” Jewell and other federal leaders congratulated groups that usually don’t see eye-to-eye, but have set aside differences to try and bring the sage grouse back from the brink. The work has been called the greatest collaborative effort to save a single species – ever. Over the last five years, millions of dollars have been spent on programs to improve the sagebrush ecosystem for the grouse and the 300 other species that depend on it. One of the ranchers who has used some of that money to make habitat improvements in the Lemhi Valley is Idaho State Rep. Merrill Beyeler, R-Leadore. He praised the decision. “I
Sep 23, 2015
Federal Government Says Greater Sage Grouse Won't Be Listed As Endangered
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. It follows a costly conservation effort, and could help defuse a potential political liability for Democrats heading into the 2016 election. Federal protections could have brought much more sweeping restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activities from California to the Dakotas. Republicans have seized on the issue as supposed evidence of wildlife protection laws run amok. Environmentalists who sued to force Tuesday's decision are certain to challenge it.
Sep 22, 2015
Community Conversation: Saving the Sage Grouse
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. Panelists included State Rep. and Leadore cattle-rancher Merrill Beyeler , state biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Trisha Cracroft , director of the Governor's Office of Species Conservation Dustin Miller and staff biologist in the sage grouse program for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Ann Moser. Independent radio producer Julie Rose facilitated the discussion. A PowerPoint slideshow with a few key images accompanied the conversation. They are posted below for your reference.
Sep 17, 2015
Saving The Sage Grouse: Is Just The Threat Of An Endangered Species Listing Enough?
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? Utah Division of Wildlife Resources habitat program manager Mark Farmer has spent much of his time since 2010 working on state and federal land to restore a more grouse-friendly mix of sagebrush and native grasses in central Utah. Landmarks here and across sage country are named for a bird once so ubiquitous, huge flocks were said to darken the sky: Chicken Springs, Chicken Ridge, Grouse Lane. But today, Farmer is happy just to spot droppings: proof the sage grouse are using the area. “They’re
Sep 11, 2015
Saving The Sage Grouse: Lessons From Listing The Gunnison Sage Grouse
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”. It’s not the strictest classification under the Endangered Species Act, and it was an attempt to recognize efforts to protect the bird in Colorado's Gunnison County. But in the end it seemed to please no one. The state of Colorado and Gunnison County sued the federal government because they thought the listing went too far. Some environmental groups sued because they said the listing didn’t go far enough. Similar lawsuits are expected after the greater sage grouse decision. “That irritates me,” says rancher Greg Peterson, who put more than 2,500 acres of his land into conservation easements near the town of Gunnison. “It’s just created confusion, it
Sep 10, 2015
Saving the Sage Grouse: Conservation Creates Strange Bedfellows In Oil And Gas Country
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. “This is the biggest lek I’ve seen on agricultural lands,” Pat Deibert says. Deibert ’s agency will decide in the next few weeks if the greater sage grouse should be listed as endangered. That’s something many people do not want. “Nobody likes the red tape, you know, the federal government bureaucracy stuff,” McStay says. A listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could deeply affect the industries making up the backbone of the western economy like agriculture,
Sep 10, 2015
Saving The Sage Grouse: Fighting Wildfire To Defend A Species
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. The ecosystem Jewell is talking about is the sagebrush steppe , and the greater sage grouse is its most famous – and fragile – resident. In fire-prone states like Idaho, Oregon and Utah, rangeland wildfire is a fact of life. But the troubled species hasn't evolved with large-scale wildfire. Wildfires wreak havoc on greater sage grouse populations by destroying the areas where the birds mate and raise their chicks. As factors like climate change and invasive plants have increased the intensity of these fires, Jewell’s new strategy is designed to allocate more money, personnel and equipment to firefighters in sage
Sep 09, 2015
Saving The Sage Grouse: Meet The Bird That Could Soon Land On The Endangered Species List
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. “You can see where she hung out up here, that’s where her nest was,” he says, pointing to the map of transmitter readings. “And then, after the chicks were old enough, then she moved down to that big meadow where it’s wetter and there’s a lot more bugs.” Sage grouse return to the same spots for mating and feeding over and over. So, as wildfire, development and grazing have cut into the landscape, the birds increasingly show up at a favorite spot only to find it no longer suitable. The meadow where this particular hen brought her chicks happens to be the mating ground where she
Sep 08, 2015
Saving The Sage Grouse: Series Preview
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. The animal will be the focus of a KBSX series next week called “Saving The Sage Grouse.” Reporter Frankie Barnhill spoke with Morning Edition host Dan Greenwood about this multi-layered issue. Here's their conversation. Dan Greenwood: So, take us back. When did this issue begin? Frankie Barnhill: Well biologists first started raising the alarm about the declining numbers of sage grouse in the mid-90s. An estimated 16 million birds used to roam the range – but that number has declined by 95 percent. In the early 2000s there were a number of petitions filed by environmental groups, they were seeking federal protection for
Sep 04, 2015