A conservation group that represents several Western states and provinces said the number of greater sage grouse observed in the field has increased over the past two springs and that the total population of the birds is close to 425,000.
According to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), the number of male birds counted on leks -- a mating area in the field where males compete for visiting females -- had increased from 43,397 in 2013 to 80,284 in 2015. The group estimated that the minimum breeding population totaled 424,645, a figure that does not include grouse on unknown leks.
The 55-page report was prepared by WAFWA for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (see Daily GPI, Aug. 6).
The oil and gas industry is opposed to some sage grouse protection plans because they could interfere with their operations. Supportive state governments want to avoid having the bird added to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in September.
In 2010, Ken Salazar, who was then secretary of the Department of Interior, said FWS scientists concluded the sage grouse deserved to be included on the ESA, but declined to do so because other species faced more imminent threats (see Daily GPI, March 8, 2010). After a court settlement in 2011, the BLM agreed to not make a decision on whether to list the bird as threatened or endangered before Sept. 30 (see Daily GPI, Dec. 30, 2011).
Meanwhile, Congress has debated with regulators over the best way to protect the sage grouse, and to possibly avoid listing the bird on the ESA (see Daily GPI, May 6). Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has also lobbied federal regulators to seriously consider state plans for protecting the bird (see Daily GPI, Aug. 3).