Sunday, January 19, 2014

When government set limits, industry pushes back: Sage Grouse

Male Greater Sage Grouse in dancing form (from Toronto Star report)
Joanne Havelock, who sits on our steering committee for PPPI (Public Pastures-Public Interest) and keeps us all pointing in the right direction in so many ways, sent out to our PPPI membership a series of links on recent stories about the Greater Sage-Grouse. Here are a couple of them especially worth a look.

First, here in Canada, with only 100 to 150 Sage Grouse remaining, the Calgary Zoo hosted a meeting last week on strategies for the species' recovery. Here is a link to a Toronto Star report on that.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where the species has traditionally been more abundant, the Federal Government is very concerned about what the oil and gas industry is doing to Sage Grouse habitat. There, in the states of Wyoming and Colorado, among others, the Greater Sage Grouse is in rapid retreat as oil and gas exploration moves across the sage flats. Vast stretches of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands have traditionally been good breeding and nursery habitat for Sage Grouse, but disturbance from the resource industry (noise, roads, vertical structures and other forms of habitat degradation) has put these grand iconic birds of the prairie into a death spiral in some parts of their range.

The petroleum industry is mounting a powerful lobbying effort to stop the U.S. government from restricting oil and gas activity in Sage Grouse habitat. Take a look at this pdf posted online by the "Endangered Species Watch" website, paid for by the Independent Petroleum Association of America". It contains a series of letters to the Federal Government, signed by several resource companies.

The document features some desperate and hilarious attempts to blow smoke into the issues, including the following lines which accuse the BLM of wanting to "clear cut" trees in the Sage Grouse lekking areas.
"Under Alternative D, the BLM preferred alternative, there is only one preferred design feature (“PDF”) which address predation. The PDF, which is for all designated habitat, is to “remove standing and encroaching trees within at least 100 meters of occupied GRSG leks and other habitats (e.g., nesting, wintering, and brood rearing) to reduce availability of perch sites for avian predators, as appropriate, and resources permit.” This approach is extreme and ineffective because it does not consider other perch sites or landbased predators such as red foxes and coyotes. Moreover, it is extreme because it calls for the clearcutting of trees,which will have an adverse impact on other species. This approach can hardly be held up as a scientific and effective approach to minimize the threat of predation."
 The spin doctors writing these lines thought they might be able to use public perceptions about clear-cutting to somehow make the petroleum industry appear more environmentally conscious than the Federal Government (note: trees or any vertical structures introduced into sage brush habitat pose a serious problem for Sage Grouse nestling survival, because they give an unnatural advantage to avian predators--hawks and owls. Trees are a minor threat compared to the oil and gas drilling and pumping equipment and utility lines serving the industry, which all make for ideal perches).

It will be interesting here in Canada to see how the petroleum industry responds to Environment Canada's Sage Grouse Emergency Order and its provisions, particularly in Alberta where most of the critical habitat has been designated.

Pronghorn, another creature that loves Sage Brush country (image courtesy of Hamiliton Greenwood)

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