- Created on Monday, 02 November 2015 10:42
Chasing Chickens: Colorado Grouse
Grouse are in the news. In Commerce City, Colorado the Secretary of the Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, recently announced the Obama administration's decision not to list the Greater Sage Grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act despite the fact that the Greater Sage Grouse population has plummeted by over 90% from over 16 million at its high point to just 200,000-500,000 today. Remarkably, this decision was applauded by David Yarnold, the CEO of the National Audubon Society, and by John Fitzpatrick, the head of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Other conservation organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife and WildEarth Guardians decried the decision, calling it a victory for industry.
The key here is habitat restoration. Residential development, mining and drilling, and ranching have destroyed and fragmented the sagebrush sea that the Sage Grouse requires for breeding, shelter, and food. Furthermore, the spread of cheatgrass, an invasive species, has fueled the spread of wildfires in the region, further compromising the habitat of Greater Sage Grouse and the 350 other species that depend on this unique environment.
In his press release Yarnold applauded the administration's decision, calling this "a new lease on life for the Greater Sage Grouse and the entire sagebrush ecosystem." Yarnold described the ESA as a catalyst that promoted collaboration between ranchers, industry leaders, states, and the federal government, especially the Bureau of Land Management, to implement plans to protect and restore this habitat. Commitments include the appropriation of nearly $500 million to restore 4.4 million acres of habitat on private land and protection on 65 million acres of federal land in the 11 states that still harbor Greater Sage Grouse populations. Yarnold called this collaborative effort "unprecedented". Fitzpatrick noted that intensive monitoring will be essential to ensure this plan's success. Birders take note.
This topic was on our mind on in November, when Eric Hynes presented a program entitled Chasing Chickens: Colorado Grouse. Eric is a professional tour guide, who has led field trips throughout Colorado searching for Prairie Chickens, Sage Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and the elusive Dusky Grouse. Conservation efforts to protect and restore these and other gallinaceous birds were at the heart of this presentation. March and April is the season to see the spectacular breeding displays put on by these birds. Eric showed us some wonderful examples of this amazing performance, reinforcing our commitment to save these beleaguered "chickens" and drawing our attention to their eastern counterparts-Ruffed Grouse, Spruce Grouse, and Wild Turkey.