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Greater Sage-grouse Ranks among Top Ten Species Imperiled by Oil and Gas Industry
Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 307-742-7978
Josh Pollock, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-552-6001
Denver – Oil and gas extraction is threatening greater sage-grouse in the West and other imperiled wildlife across the nation, according to a new report by the Endangered Species Coalition. Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink highlights ten species that are particularly vulnerable to impacts from oil, gas and coal. The list spans the entire country, and has special significance in western Colorado and Wyoming, where sage-grouse habitat is increasingly fragmented by well pads, compressor stations, access roads, power lines and pipelines.
“America’s outsized reliance on dirty and dangerous fuels is making it much harder to protect our most vulnerable wildlife,” said Mark Salvo, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians and head of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. “We should not sacrifice our irreplaceable natural heritage in order to make the fossil fuels industry even wealthier.”
From the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska, the report highlights the ten most endangered animals, plants, birds and fish at risk of extinction due to the pursuit of fossil fuels, and shows how wildlife suffers displacement, loss of habitat and the threat of extinction from the development, storage and transportation of fossil fuels. Coalition members nominated candidates for inclusion in the report, and submissions were then reviewed, judged, and voted on by a panel of scientists. The report identifies the home range, conservation status, remaining population and specific threat facing each of the ten finalists.
In addition to the loss of habitat to roads and well pads that are scraped clean of sagebrush, greater sage-grouse are highly sensitive to noise and visual disturbance from oil and gas drilling, especially on their traditional mating grounds, known as leks. Recent studies show negative impacts to sage-grouse mating and brood rearing activities from oil and gas facilities as far as four miles away from lek sites.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that greater sage-grouse warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but declined to add it to the federal threatened and endangered species list, citing an existing backlog of pending listing decisions. Since then, state governments and federal land management agencies have increased efforts to conserve sage-grouse and their sagebrush habitats. The Bureau of Land Management, which manages approximately half of all sage-grouse habitat in the West, is currently revising management plans across the West to better protect sage-grouse and the places they live.
“Sage-grouse are an icon of the Western landscape,” said Josh Pollock, Conservation Director at Rocky Mountain Wild. “If they are in trouble, it means we should be very concerned about what’s happening to our wide-open western landscapes and the sagebrush country that supports dozens of other wildlife species, like pronghorn, elk, golden eagles, and swift fox.”
Other examples of at-risk wildlife include the dwindling population of bowhead whales off the coast of Alaska - threatened by contaminants and noise from offshore drilling - to the dunes sagebrush lizard in Texas, where habitat loss and degradation and leaking pipelines are contributing to the reptile’s decline. Elsewhere in the country, the iconic and endangered whooping crane overcame near extinction in the 1940s, only to face a new battle for survival from the proposed Keystone Pipeline, which would run alongside the crane’s long migratory path, destroying resting places and food sources. The lingering impacts of the Deepwater oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are destroying the sole breeding ground of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. And in Appalachia, toxic coal waste is dumped into streams, smothering the threatened Kentucky arrow darter and other fish, as well as poisoning the drinking water supply for downstream communities.
“We are paying a high price for the destruction of sagebrush country and the nation’s land, water, air and wildlife by subsidizing the oil and gas industry,” said Duane Short, Wild Species Program Director at Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Taxpayers will hand out nearly $100 billion to oil and gas companies in the coming decades. Meanwhile, oil companies paid their senior executives $220 million in 2010 alone, while ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP combined have reduced their U.S. workforce by over 11,000 employees in the past six years.”
Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink calls for a commitment to a clean, safe and sustainable energy future, and urges lawmakers to honor the intent of the Endangered Species Act while reducing the country’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
For more information and to view the full report, go to: http://fuelingextinction.org.
Top 10 List of Wildlife Threatened by Development, Storage and Transportation of Fossil Fuels
Bowhead Whale: The remainder of the endangered bowhead whale population is threatened by contaminants, noise from off shore oil drilling, and deadly collisions with ships. An oil spill could easily wipe out this small population, which lives solely in icy Arctic waters.
Dunes Sagebrush Lizard: The dunes sagebrush lizard is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act due to impacts from oil and gas drilling on the Permian Basin in western Texas. Habitat loss and degradation, disturbance from well pads and leaking pipelinescontribute to the decline of the lizard’s population, which exists on a tiny range within the Basin’s vast oil reserves.
Graham’s Penstemon (flower): This delicate flower lives only on oil shale reserves targeted for mining in Utah. Oil shale mining takes massive amounts of water, putting the flowers at risk of either being starved of water or drowned under new reservoirs. Oil shale soils are very unstable, and any development can bury or uproot the few remaining plants.
Greater Sage-Grouse: Energy development has caused habitat loss and fragmentation due to roads, pipelines, power lines, and human and vehicle-related disturbance, resulting in marked declines in sage-grouse numbers. Coalbed methane gas development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming has coincided with a 79 percent decline in the greater sage-grouse population.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle: According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kemp’s ridley is the most seriously endangered of all sea turtles, due to lingering impacts of the Deepwater oil disaster on Gulf waters - the sole breeding ground of the turtle. In the immediate aftermath of the oil spill, 156 sea turtle deaths were recorded; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys.
Kentucky Arrow Darter (fish): Toxic waste pushed into streams from mountaintop coal mining is smothering the rare Kentucky arrow darter fish and poisoning the drinking water of downstream communities. The arrow darter has already been wiped out from more than half of its range.
Spectacled Eider (bird): Oil and gas development, along with climate change, have drastically reduced the frigid habitat range of the threatened spectacled eider. As a result, the western Alaskan population dropped by 96 percent between 1957 and 1992. Aircraft and vessel traffic and seismic survey acoustic activities can all negatively impact the bird’s habitat and cause death.
Tan Riffleshell (mussel): This endangered mollusk plays a critical role in the health of Appalachian river habitats by filtering pollutants and restoring nutrients to the water. Acid mine drainage, sedimentation from coal mining, and coal ash landfills are contaminating the mussel’s habitat and breeding areas, further threatening this most endangered member of the mussel family.
Whooping Crane: The endangered whooping crane overcame near extinction in the 1940s, but the existing wild flock of 437 cranes now faces a new battle for survival. The proposed Keystone Pipeline would run alongside the crane’s entire migratory path from Canada to Texas, and the inevitable toxic waste ponds, collisions and electrocutions from power lines, along with potential oil spills, would decimate the vulnerable remaining population.
Wyoming Pocket Gopher: It is estimated that fewer than 40 pocket gophers exist today in their sole range in Wyoming’s Sweetwater and Carbon Counties. Truck and vehicle traffic associated with increasing oil and gas activities result in habitat loss and fragmentation, cutting off potential mating opportunities and endangering the survival of this rare animal.
Advocates Choice - The Polar Bear: The polar bears’ survival is completely dependent upon sea ice, which is rapidly melting. They are further threatened by the risk of an oil spill, and activities like seismic testing, icebreaking, and vessel movement also negatively impact polar bears and their food sources.