Friday, March 14, 2014

American Sage Grouse authority laments Canada's failure to protect the species

one of many empty Greater Sage-Grouse Leks in Saskatchewan
The Sage Grouse Emergency Order declared by Environment Canada appears to be going sideways.

So far, we have a commitment of millions of dollars to let the Calgary Zoo try captive breeding of the birds, and ranchers all over south-eastern Alberta and south-western Saskatchewan severely ticked off and feeling like the government and conservation groups never listen to them.

More than one ranchers has used the term "Marshall Law" to describe the way the order came down and some of them, unfortunately, are blaming the conservation NGOs for the contents of the order and the way it was rolled out.

To be clear, the conservation community was as surprised as the ranchers have been over the approach that Environment Canada has taken.  And most people concerned about the species are wondering why the lion's share of the money seems to be going to a zoo for captive breeding.

Last week, I received an email from Stuart Houston that included a statement from his American friend and colleague Clait Braun, one of the continent's foremost authorities on Sage-Grouse conservation and recovery.

Braun has published more than 200 scientific peer-reviewed and technical publications, and is a past president of the Wildlife Society, of the Wilson Ornithological Society, and of the Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Science

Perhaps most famous for conducting the studies that led to the Gunnison Sage-Grouse being declared a separate species of Sage-Grouse, he is a forthright voice for the conservation of native birds and wildlife on American public lands.

The author of the solicited paper "Blueprint for Sage-grouse Conservation and Recovery" , Clait Braun knows Sage Grouse (he has banded more than 13,000) and is well aware of the story unfolding now on the Canadian Plains.

Dr. Clait Braun (image courtesy of Youtube)
In his message to Stuart, Braun spoke candidly of the situation north of the 49th parallel.

His words are direct and carefully chosen. We would do well to listen--and it is also time we started to listen to the very real concerns of the cattle producers who feel like they are being asked to shoulder the costs of implementing the conditions of the Emergency Order:

"Canada has treated their small population of Sage-Grouse very poorly through their Species at Risk Act and predecessors. Ottawa and the Provincial governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan knew from the work of Cameron Aldridge near Manyberries in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the population was in a free fall as a result of grazing, plowing of grasslands and planting of cereal grains, and oil development. Government just ignored the science. Ottawa still seems less than interested and the 4.2 million $ over 10 years to the Calgary Zoo to develop and implement a captive breeding program does not address the main problem---loss of habitats---which is not easily reversed. The 4.2 million $ will be mostly squandered as others have learned it is very difficult to keep Sage-Grouse alive in captivity let alone produce enough offspring for release to maintain the Canadian genotype. It is likely to be what Aldo Leopold termed a 'straggling' failure. Sad."

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