The federal Bureau of Land Management this week announced it is developing a new strategy to protect the greater sage grouse by conserving its habitat in the West, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
The plan will help various agencies and stakeholders work together to better manage the species. Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Jeff Clark says the biggest threats to grouse are construction and development that block corridors for the birds to move around in its habitat.
“There’s a lot of different things at work here, and just trying to not only protect the habitat that they already have, but also to restore habitat that has been deteriorating,” Clark says.
The agency manages more than 57 million acres of sage brush, half of which grouse call home. But much of the grouse’s habitat is disjointed, and Clark says this is a big problem for the species. Grouse only use specific areas – called leks – to reproduce and nest. Although the grouse are nomadic birds, they always return to the same nesting locations. When their corridors back to those sites are disrupted by a road or housing development, they won’t reproduce and their numbers will diminish.
Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined greater sage grouse numbers warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act. But with other animals facing a more imminent threat, the population was placed on a “waiting list.”
Washington Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Michael Schroeder says grouse now live on less than 60 percent of their historic habitat.
“You can go back 150 years or longer and look at some of the early explorers in the state of Washington… People like Lewis and Clark and David Douglas,” Schroeder says. “They observed a lot of sage grouse. But the places where they observed sage grouse no longer have sage grouse.”
The BLM will continue to develop its plan over the next four months. After that time, the agency will put together regional and state interdisciplinary teams.
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