Is it possible that the sage grouse and fuel development could be anything but at odds with one another? Insider Energy reports that an effort among several states may offer a plan from which everyone—fuel developers, ranchers and birds—can benefit.
States in which the sage grouse has natural habitat such as Wyoming have been grappling with the bird’s pending listing as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide in September whether or not to add the bird to the list.
If the grouse is listed as endangered, oil and gas proponents say the imposed regulations will limit their production and ultimately hurt the economy in oil and gas-reliant states like Wyoming.
Hoping to strike a compromise between the opposing interests, the Sage Grouse Initiative Team partners ranchers, conservation non-profits and oil and gas producers like ConocoPhillips to tackle sage grouse preservation before the federal government does.
“Nobody likes the red tape, you know, the federal government bureaucracy stuff,” said Wes McStray, a partner of SGIT whose ranch is a frequent sage grouse mating site. “I’d much rather us do it cooperatively—try a different way.”
So far, 11 states have partnered with the initiative, but Wyoming plays a key role in the bird’s preservation because it is home to 40 percent of the sage grouse population. The group plans to hone in on areas that will reap the most benefits, which is helped along by the birds’ tendency to huddle in one place.
Oil and gas companies have, for the most part, been on board with the group’s efforts. One of the initiative’s partners, Paul Ulrich with Jonah Energy, acknowledged the industry’s impacts on the area.
“There’s no question that you’re going to have short term impacts that need to be mitigated,” he said. The problem, Ulrich continues, is determining how to prioritize the areas’ conservation. About 20 percent of more than 140,000 acres Jonah Energy purchased for drilling plays an important role in sage grouses’ lives. “We found that we have 2,000 birds wintering in this one area.
Also on board with the initiative is Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, to whom SGIT will present a five-year strategy this month.
“It’s in our best interest to make sure that we get it right,” Mead said.