Oregon Sage Grouse Now Protected As Heck

Late last week, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a new agreement that protects Oregon’s entire population of greater sage grouse. Covering roughly 5,500 square miles across soil and water conservation districts in eight counties, the new protective measures are designed to safeguard the glorious fowl and keep them off the endangered species list.

Steep Population Decline

Despite a large natural habitat that encompasses 11 states and two Canadian provinces, the greater sage grouse population has declined more than 90 percent over the past century. A number of factors, both manmade and natural, have led to the sharp decline.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Oregon Governor Kate Brown held a press conference in Bend last Friday to announce details of the new conservation agreement, which covers parts of Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Lake, Malheur, and Union counties. Numerous measures are being taken ahead of an upcoming September 30th deadline, at which time the Fish and Wildlife Service must decide whether or not the sage grouse should be given Endangered Species Act protection.

"Harrumph!"

“Harrumph!”

Helpful as ever, Congress has barred the federal government from spending money on protecting the sage grouse. The Fish and Wildlife Service says fie on that, and that they are required by law to reach a decision by September.

Benefits for Grouse, Ranchers

The new agreements aren’t just for the birds, however. Oregon ranchers who enact specific sage grouse- and sage grouse habitat-protecting measures now will be less strictly restricted if the birds are added to the Endangered Species list. Our state accounts for roughly five percent of America’s sage grouse habitat.

Government biologists will visit compliant ranchers’ land and scope out any potential hazards. Some of these may have simple solutions, such as changing where and when cattle graze so as not to intrude on the birds’ mating season. Others are a bit more involved, like adding ramps to all water troughs so any birds that fall in can escape.

Oregon Natural Desert Association conservation director Dan Morse says the program’s success will hinge on the specific measures the federal biologists suggest. Of potentially greater importance are the US Bureau of Land Management’s new conservation measures.

Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, says that many ranchers are taking up the Fish and Wildlife Service on their offer, in hopes of keeping the sage grouse off the Endangered Species list. Rosa’s organization is hoping to get state legislation passed that will help pay ranchers who implement grouse-conservation measures.

Photo credit: USFWS Pacific / Foter / CC BY