Another bird species has been acknowledged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act, but is not going to get it. This time it is the Gunnison sage grouse. Just 10 days ago, Care2 published a story about a similar situation facing the Sprague’s Pipit, a bird species that has declined 80 percent in the last 40 years. The Pipit lives in both Canada and the US. It has legal protection in Canada as a threatened species, so there is some hope if it being protected there.
The Gunnison Sage Grouse, however, only lives in seven to eight small populations in Colorado and in Utah. Ninety percent of its natural habitat has been lost. (Source: Western State College of Colorado) There appears to be some confusion over the number of these grouses living in the wild. The US Fish and Wildlife Service says there are 5,000, and that the largest population is 4,000. The State of Colorado Division of Wildlife says there are 3,500 total, with 2,500 living in the largest population.
In Utah, according to their state wildlife department, in 1972 there were 500 to 1,000 of the birds in the only county they occupy there. By 1999 that estimate had declined to 140-250.
A researcher noted the decline of the species could be related to conversion of their habitat to oil and natural gas development projects. Another threat to the grouse is conversion of their habitat to cattle grazing land. An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity said, “The Service first acknowledged a decade ago that the Gunnison sage grouse is threatened with extinction.” “This is the latest in a series of decisions to avoid protecting this iconic bird that amount to navel-gazing and a tremendous waste of resources.”
A major component of the grouses’ diet is sagebrush. Without it, they might not be able to survive. Their reliance on sagebrush is where the conflict occurs with humans. Sagebrush habitat is used by human for industrial and agricultural purposes. If the Gunnison Grouse was added to the Endangered Species Act, the legal protections would most likely enforce the protection of their habitats, which would reduce some oil, natural gas, and cattle operations.
Senior Staff biologist of the Center for Native Ecoystems Megan Mueller said, “It’s no surprise that we are losing Gunnison sage grouse when we are allowing oil and gas drilling, rapid development, and inappropriately managed livestock grazing in most of the grouse’s remaining habitat.” (Source: Summit County Voice)
Image Credit: greener.org