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Male sage grouse displaying his mating plumage. Photo by Steve Fairbairn, US Fish and Wildlife Service. CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia

Restrictions may address Greater Sage-Grouse habitat loss by drilling

Shane Thielges | Shale Plays Media

Last May the Lesser Prairie Chicken was added to the federal list of ‘threatened’ species due in part to the animal’s loss of habitat by oil and gas drilling.

Now a close cousin called the Greater Sage-Grouse may end up on the ‘endangered’ list for similar reasons, the New York Times reports.

Sage-grouse territory covers over 165 million acres in 11 states, but has begun to shrink rapidly. Federal officials say the bird’s population has declined nearly 80 percent in the past century. Any serious efforts to reverse this trend – which an ‘endangered’ classification would prompt – would necessitate restrictions on the use of this habitat.

Grouse are easily disturbed by loud noises, and will forgo mating if they believe they are in danger. Additionally, abundant tall grasses are necessary to keep chicks hidden from predators such as coyotes and eagles.

Many states – including Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming – operate oil and gas wells in what are currently grouse habitats and would see their energy industry affected (Wyoming, in particular, is home to an estimated quarter of the remaining sage-grouse population). Thus a balance between energy and the environment must once again be struck.

“The sage grouse issue may finally put the brakes on the fossil-fuel industry in a way that no other factor has been able to,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist at WildEarth Guardians, an advocacy group.

“Remember the economic impact of the spotted owl and how much it reduced timber production on federal lands?” Representative Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, said in an interview. “The sage grouse has seven times the acreage of the spotted owl. You are looking at billions of dollars in lost economic activity, millions of dollars in lost state and local revenues and tens of thousands of jobs being lost.”

Wind turbine construction would also be heavily impacted by the restrictions.

Wyoming has proposed tentative plans to limit harmful development, including a ban on activity within a half-mile of breeding grounds called ‘leks’. Environmentalists, however, have already fired back, saying a gap of at least six miles is necessary. As yet, there is no deadline for the listing decision.

Read more at the New York Times: Frack Quietly, Please: Sage Grouse Is Nesting

Related: Prairie chicken holds up Midland spaceport license

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