Update 3/5/10: The ruling is “warranted but precluded” a kinda-sorta technical cop out that basically puts the sage-grouse on a watch list but doesn’t directly restrict activities that harm them. Rocky Barker has a detailed explanation, and there’s also a piece in the NY Times.


Tomorrow, conservationists expect to learn the fate of the greater sage-grouse. It’s a desert-dwelling bird that is rather astonishing in its own right, and also serves as a rough proxy for the region’s ecological integrity. It is expected that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will at last make a delayed announcement about whether the bird has a place on the nation’s endangered species list.

As is often the case with these decisions, there is an array of concerns. If the sage-grouse is listed, it could affect a large number of the activities that occur in sagebrush country, including cattle ranching, oil and gas exploration, fence- and road-building, and even renewable energy development. Yet while the bird’s long-term prospects can only be evaluated by qualified biologists, it is abundantly clear that sage-grouse habitat is drastically reduced from what it was a century or so ago.

Below, a Sightline-produced map depicting the current and historical range of the greater sage-grouse. (Animated versions of this map are available here.)

grouse range 22

As you can see from the map, sage-grouse still maintain a reasonably strong presence in Idaho and Oregon, though they have largely disappeared from Washington, where they were once abundant. Unfortunately, even in Oregon, where Sightline monitors the bird’s health for the Cascadia Scorecard project, the bird’s population trends are worrisome.

I’ll leave off for now and suggest you head over to the Idaho Statesman to read environmental reporter Rocky Barker’s take on the sage-grouse listing. It’s good stuff as usual.