Making the NY Times
February 8, 2011
Sage grouse country is desolate by most standards. The large members of the grouse family live on the high elevation sage steppes of the Rocky Mountains. If you happen to want to visit a sage grouse, you will find many poky dry plants, no trees and any spectacular alpine scenery (or flowing water for that matter) you might see is generally off in the distance or in your dreams. I don’t think many people in Manhattan generally think about sage grouse planning out their strut for the annual mating call at the lek each year, but today, sage grouse made the NY Times.
Why would people even read this article about a species in a remote part of the US? Because this desolate, windy and shadeless landscape is full of flatulence of the natural variety along with some coal and oil for good measure and the last thing that the oilmen who live in their mansions in Texas and ranchers who raise sheep in the harshest climate in which sheep could possibly survive want is for sage grouse to go on the endangered species list. The Endangered Species Act is often cited as the most powerful piece of environmental legislation passed anywhere. Ever. So if sage grouse do make the list (and they probably should considering how low their numbers are) there wont be any new oil or gas wells and ranchers won’t be funded, but will be required, to make environmentally sound decisions.
If the ESA scares people/the government into protecting habitat before a species is put on the list, then great. The article, at least, made the Sage Grouse Initiative sound like a plausible alternative to strict federal regulation. It also made it sound like it was applying science to policy. WAHOO! With a reactive management plan based on results. YEEHAW!
I am still a little skeptical after seeing the vast oil/gas fields and the roads connecting them in Wyoming. The Initiative is protecting high quality habitat and providing funding for ranchers to manage their lands for sage grouse, but there is a hell of a lot of BLM land that isn’t included in the project. Maybe sage grouse can survive on a little less land, but can migratory pronghorn and mule deer? What will happen when the populations on these habitat patches become completely isolated from each other? Will the people who read the NY Times care more about filling up their tanks or about a funny-looking bird in the high desert?