Saturday, March 23, 2013

Federal Govt washing its hands of the Greater Sage Grouse

One of the rarest birds in Canada fights to hold its ground in Saskatchewan and Alberta [image courtesy of John Carlson]

Peter Kent, our Federal minister of the Environment won't say one way or another if his ministry has any plan for helping the Greater Sage Grouse, one of the most endangered birds in Canada (there are nearly three times more Whooping Cranes breeding in Canada each year than there are Sage Grouse).

Here is a news clip from CTV on the topic.

And a Globe and Mail article. These two news stories give an update on court action taken by Ecojustice, a legal defense fund that has been trying to get Ottawa to actually follow the provisions of its Species at Risk Act (SARA) for as long as the act has been on the books. This latest gambit by Minister Kent is just another form of the dithering that allowed the Sage Grouse to decline over the last decade while the ministry let the oil and gas industry decimate its critical habitat in Alberta and Saskatchewan mile by mile.

Some of that habitat is in the PFRA pastures that Ottawa is handing over to the provinces to reduce the regulatory burden on industry. SARA does not really have any teeth on land that is not managed by the Federal government, so the process of getting rid of the PFRA system minimizes Federal responsibilities for thirty or so species at risk by 2.2 million acres. Other than Grasslands National Park, the Suffield Reserve in Alberta, and a couple of small National Wildlife Areas, they will have little to worry about regarding prairie species.

In the 1980s I used to watch Sage Grouse in the big Govenlock pasture. Once oil and gas moved in, the grouse rapidly disappeared. Sage Grouse need moderately to lightly grazed sagebrush habitat and do not like to be near vertical structures, roads or anything that drowns out their spring courtship vocalizations. Rates of reproduction and survival plummet after the land gets cut up by the roads, pumps and pipelines that come with resource extraction.

Sage Grouse droppings from one of the last active leks in Canada
We need a Sage Grouse reserve to be set aside as soon as possible in southwest Saskatchewan and one in southeast Alberta. There just so happen to be some community pastures in limbo right now. Why not make one or two of them into a big National Wildlife Area, working with the local grazing community to retain access for cattle while making the Greater Sage Grouse, Pronghorn and other grassland species a priority? We will undoubtedly be developing a re-introduction program for Sage Grouse soon in Canada. Let's make sure we have a place protected from oil and gas where it is worth the work of re-introducing them.


  1. Because making them a wildlife area would be common sense and there is no government that has that anymore.

  2. ..and the woodland caribou, and wolf management, grizzly bear and marine life conservation...etc.
    This government does nothing for it wildlands and their inhabitants.

  3. Bruce and Louise--too true, of course, but we have to do what we can to overcome the failure of our governments.

  4. Hey Trevor,
    Wish I could claim the photo, but it looks like it is from Jerret Raffety / Rawlins (Wyo.) Daily Times.


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