Environment: Post-fire rehab treatments in Great Basin not doing much good for sage-grouse

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

More targeted treatments could benefit threatened birds

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Post-fire rehabilitation work in the Great Basin’s sagebrush ocean isn’t doing much to help greater sage-grouse, USGS and U.S. Forest Service scientists found in a new study.

The research team took a close look at areas eight to 20 years after seeding efforts, pointing out that such restoration projects could, in theory, be used to improve sage grouse habitat — but only if the right types of seeds are planted.

Sage-grouse tend to use areas with a mixture of dwarf sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush, native grasses, minimal human development, and minimal non-native plants. Most post-fire restoration projects are were designed to mitigate the effects of fire on soil and vegetation — but they provide an opportunity to reverse habitat degradation for sage-grouse, a species being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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Colorado wary of greater sage-grouse listing

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Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

State officials want to balance fossil fuel development with wildlife conservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Despite the fact fossil fuel development is devastating wildlife habitat in northwest Colorado, state officials are pressing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep greater sage-grouse off the endangered species list.

In a press release, Gov. John Hickenlooper‘s office described  oil and gas drilling as “vibrant economic activities,” and touted voluntary conservation activities shaped by local stakeholders as an alternative to a federal conservation plan.

“Given the unique landscapes and natural resources in Colorado, a Colorado-based solution is more practical that one handed down by the federal government,” Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. “We hope the Bureau of Land Management will look at the public-private partnerships that have been so successful in Colorado as a model on how to get things done.” Continue reading

Biodiversity: BLM releases draft version of greater sage-grouse conservation plan for northwestern Colorado

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

 

FRISCO — These days, the vast sagebrush ocean of the Intermountain West is under siege by drilling rigs, sprawling exurban development and, in some cases, poor grazing practices on public lands.

Altogether, those pressures have degraded habitat across big swaths of the landscape. The damage is reflected by the sharp decline in greater sage-grouse populations. The birds have disappeared from half of their former range and are a candidate for the endangered species list, likely to be designated as threatened or endangered.

The listing could come as soon as 2015 — unless federal land managers and local governments can agree on a conservation plan with enough safeguards to satisfy the biologists who will consider the listing.

The Bureau of Land Management, which administers much of the territory with key sage-grouse habitat, is working toward that goal in the west-wide National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Effort, and last week released a draft environmental study for northwestern Colorado for a 90-day comment period. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds issue new report on greater sage-grouse

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Greater sage-grouse, courtesy USFWS.

Survey of studies provides regional context for conservation efforts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal scientists hope that a new report with extensive data on greater sage-grouse will help land managers develop more effective conservation strategies. The Baseline Environmental Report was released by the U.S. Geological Survey  last month.

“This report summarizes several decades of work on sage-grouse populations and sagebrush habitat. It will serve as a useful tool for land and wildlife managers and provides a needed range-wide perspective,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS. Continue reading

Study: Greater sage-grouse need wide-open spaces

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Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Biologists take close look at sage-grouse habitat requirements

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new U.S. Geological Survey-led study illustrates some of the challenges associated with conserving greater sage-grouse in western landscapes that are increasingly fragmented by human activities, including exurban sprawl and energy development.

Within their sagebrush habitat, the scientists documented very specific environmental conditions showing that the birds prefer to breed in drier-than-average regions within a small temperature and precipitation range. The findings suggest that predicted changes in climate may cause lek locations to change depending on where there are optimal arid conditions.

After taking a close look at most of the data available for more than 3,000 active breeding areas, the biologists concluded that the large birds do best in “landscapes with extremely minimal levels of human land use.” Continue reading

Colorado: Drones eyed for greater sage-grouse monitoring

Public invited to learn more about the use of unmanned aircraft at a demonstration in Kremmling

FORT scientist and Raven-A sUAS pilot Leanne Hanson launches the drone. USGS photo.

FORT scientist and Raven-A sUAS pilot Leanne Hanson launches the drone in the San Luis Valley as part of an effort to monitor sandhill cranes.  USGS photo.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — State and federal scientists may use small drones to monitor greater sage-grouse in their breeding grounds, and will offer the public a chance to see how the technology works starting next week.

The planned test flights are a collaboration between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey. The agencies will conduct test flights to evaluate whether the small unmanned aircraft can save time and money and offer a safer and enhanced alternative to gather greater sage-grouse data.

The low-flying aircraft may be able to get more detailed counts of the threatened birds, and may even help biologists find previously unknown leks.

“The aircraft proved successful in other recent wildlife inventory projects conducted by USGS,” said Lyle Sidener, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Hot Sulphur Springs. “We are interested to see if greater sage-grouse will tolerate the craft flying near their leks at the lower altitudes necessary to provide useful data.” Continue reading

Colorado: Greater sage-grouse viewing tours offered

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Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy Brian Currie/Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

State biologists team up with Conservation Colorado to offer wildlife-friendly bird watching

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — From afar, the wide-open sagebrush steppes of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau can look stark and daunting, but each spring, the region comes to life with the mating ritual of greater sage-grouse.

The birds gather in traditional mating grounds, called leks, where the males spread their impressive tail feathers and strut while inflating and popping giant air sacs on their necks to impress the females.

The best available science suggests that greater sage-grouse qualify for endangered species status and studies are under way to develop the best possible conservation plans. Continue reading

Draft report outlines greater sage-grouse conservation goals

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

States, BLM trying to stave off an endangered species listing

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new draft report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may help provide a road map for greater sage-grouse conservation by identifying high-risk populations of the birds, outlining specific measures needed to avoid or mitigate impacts and setting population conservation goals.

The draft report is part of a multi-state planning aimed at protecting sage grouse and enabling economic growth, including oil and gas development, across the interior West.

The USFWS is working toward a court-ordered deadline for making a decision whether list greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. As part of that process, the Bureau of Land Management is updating land management plans across huge swaths of the West. At the same time, western states are also involved in trying to develop sage grouse conservation plans, hoping to forestall an endangered species listing. Continue reading

Opinion: More action, less talk, on sage grouse conservation

Greater sage-grouse. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

Look out when politicians get involved in endangered species conservation

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — If I were a sage grouse, I’d be heading for the hills right about now, because there’s nothing scarier than a “task force” of politicians sitting around discussing your fate.

The task force will be co-chaired by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, neither one of whom ever saw a gas-drilling proposal they didn’t like.

They will, according to a press release from Hickenlooper’s office, look for ways “to collaboratively identify actions that could preclude the need to list the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.”

It would be nice to believe that executive level participation might lead to meaningful conservation measures, but a more cynical interpretation of that political jargon might be, “How can we avoid taking any real, meaningful measures to protect a fast-disappearing species that once ranged widely across the sagebrush ocean of the interior West while making sure that energy company and real estate developers have their way with the land?” Continue reading

BLM to limit impacts in sage grouse habitat

Greater sage grouse. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Interim measures aimed at providing guidance for more pending land-use plans — and some certainty for private landowners
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Bureau of Land Management this week took a  step toward preserving habitat for greater sage grouse by limiting disturbance in areas identified as priority habitat.
The iconic western bird  once flourished across the sagebrush ocean of the Great Basin, but has declined in recent decades as a result of habitat fragmentation from agriculture, ranching, oil and gas development and other human development pressures.
Greater sage grouse is one of many species deemed worthy of protection under the Endangered Species Act but precluded from listing because of more immediate threats to other species. More information on the status of the species at this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. Continue reading
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