Here’s a story in the Salt Lake Tribune. A quote below.
20th-century crash » Scientists estimate humans have slashed the sage grouse range by about half since Europeans settled on this continent. And Sommers’ memories of a late 20th-century plunge are backed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that grouse numbers have fallen 30 percent since the 1980s, likely to fewer than a half-million birds.
story continues below
In Utah, the Division of Wildlife Resources’ annual counts (22,000 this year) have dropped 1 percent to 2 percent a year since the ’80s — an improvement over steeper 1960s and ’70s losses.
Biologists don’t see hunting as a significant factor, and the practice continues in most states that are home to the birds. But it likely would end after an endangered-species listing. Utah already has stopped the hunting of the much rarer Gunnison sage grouse, which live around Monticello and in western Colorado.
Utah and other states are hustling to produce conservation plans this spring to convince federal officials that they can save the greater sage grouse without wide-ranging federal restrictions. They’re racing to complete prescriptions for the bird’s survival before the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management start revising their grouse protections in the next year.
For guidance, they look to Wyoming, sage-grouse central. With perhaps 40 percent of the species, the Cowboy State already has produced a plan and has a working group stocked with industry and wildlife groups trying to apply what they call common sense to save most of the birds.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials, who will rule on the bird’s legal status by 2015, say they like the model but it needs to apply to a larger swath of the range that covers most of the interior West.
What’s killing birds? » As the name implies, sage grouse need sagebrush. They eat its pungent greens in winter, when bugs and other plants are under snow, and hide under it to avoid eagles and other predators. In decades past, pioneering plows converted brush to wheat and other crops, shrinking the bird’s home.
Today, the biggest threat is what biologists call “fragmentation,” a catch-all term that includes residential subdivisions, roads, wildfires, windmills, power lines, pipelines and gas wells.
“The future of the economy of the West is probably tied to the future of the sage grouse,” said Tom Christiansen, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s sage-grouse point man and adviser to his state’s working group.
Note from Sharon:
Interesting statement by Terry Donahue in the comments. I wonder what others know about this. I also think that the “canary in the coal mine” analogy is easy to assert, harder to prove.