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Greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus
ESA status: none
Greater sage-grouse are striking and charismatic birds that derive their name, food and shelter from the sagebrush on which they depend. They were first described by Lewis and Clark in 1805. Nineteenth-century travelers and settlers reported huge flocks of sage-grouse that darkened the sky as they lifted from valley floors. A classic indicator species, sage-grouse are the foremost ambassador for the Sagebrush Sea.
The sage-grouse mating ritual is fascinating to observe, and often described as one of the most stirring and colorful natural history pageants in the West. In early spring, at dawn and often at dusk, males congregate on "leks"—ancestral strutting grounds to which the birds return year after year. Leks vary in size from one to forty acres and may be up to fifty miles from winter habitat. To attract a hen, cocks strut, fan their tail feathers and swell their breasts to reveal bright yellow air sacs. The combination of wing movements and inflating and deflating air sacs make an utterly unique "swish-swish-coo-oopoink!"
The historic range of greater sage-grouse closely conformed to the distribution of sagebrush steppe in what became thirteen western states and three Canadian provinces. However, greater sage-grouse range has been reduced by almost half since the 1900s, while rangewide abundance has decreased between 69-99 percent from historic levels. Humans have grazed, plowed, sprayed, burned, drilled, developed, mined, and driven over most of the species’ range. Their remaining habitat is fragmented and degraded by weeds, unnatural fire, conifer encroachment, utility corridors, roads and fences.
The combination of habitat loss and population decline finally compelled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make greater sage-grouse a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010. Unfortunately, the ESA provides no formal protection to candidate species. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for approximately half of sage-grouse range, and the agency has continued to permit a multitude of harmful land uses on public land, including gas and oil development, livestock grazing and off-road vehicle use.
WildEarth Guardians has redoubled efforts to protect sage-grouse and the Sagebrush Sea so that future generations might continue to enjoy this spectacular species. We challenge destructive land uses in sage-grouse range; we advocate voluntary grazing permit retirement in sagebrush steppe; and we will formally request designation of sagebrush reserves on BLM land to conserve sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species.
- Significant Actions
- March 2009 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds the greater sage-grouse “warranted but precluded” for listing, placing it on the ESA candidate list
- May 2011 - Greater sage-grouse included in landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- October 2015 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds the greater sage-grouse "not warranted" for listing
- February, 2016 - WildEarth Guardians and partners file a lawsuit challenging land use plans that fail to adequately protect sage-grouse
- Press Releases
- February 26, 2008 - "Fish and Wildlife Service Initiates New Listing Decision for Greater Sage-Grouse"
- January 17, 2009 - "Bush Administration Takes Parting Shot at Endangered Grouse"
- March 5, 2009 - "Greater Sage-grouse Warranted...but Precluded from ESA Protection"
- March 20, 2009 - "State of the Birds' Report Further Evidence of Need to Protect Western Grouse"
- November 4, 2009 - "New Study Chronicles Declining Populations, Major Threats to Sage-Grouse"
- November 24, 2009 - “Presidential Pardon Requested for Endangered Western Grouse”
- June 29, 2010 - "New Lawsuit Filed to Protect Sage Grouse Under Endangered Species Act"
- November 24, 2010 - “Presidential Pardon Requested for Endangered Western Grouse”
- May 10, 2011 - “Hope for Endangered Species Act Candidates”
- July 21, 2011 - "BLM Announces New Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy"
- September 9, 2011 - “Federal Court Approves Historic Species Agreement”
- November 16, 2011 - “Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Legislation Introduced in Congress”
- December 8, 2011 - "Conservationists Optimistic about New Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy"
- January 19, 2012 - “Fossil Fuel Development Taking a Toll on Sage-Grouse and Other Wildlife”
- February 10, 2012 - “BLM Expands Sage-Grouse Planning Area, Extends Public Comment Period”
- March 16, 2012 - “Powder River Basin Sage-grouse at Risk for Extirpation”
- May 10, 2012 - “Conservationists Advise Western Governors on Sage-Grouse Conservation”
- September 26, 2013 - “Conservation group calls for stronger sage grouse protections in Powder River Basin”
- October 1, 2013 - “Conservation group calls for stronger protection for North Dakota sage grouse”
- October 28, 2013 - “Groups Act to Halt Habitat Destruction in Douglas Sage Grouse Core Area”
- November 4, 2013 - “Montana-Idaho Sage Grouse Plan Criticized For Lacking Specifics”
- November 4, 2013 - “Federal Sage Grouse Plan in Utah Leaves Birds at Risk”
- November 4, 2013 - “California-Nevada Sage Grouse Plan Amendments Get Mixed Review”
- December 26, 2013 - “Conservationists Conclude Wyoming Federal Sage Grouse Plan is ‘Wishy-washy,’ ‘Inadequate’"
- January 29, 2014 - “Federal Grouse Plan for Utah is Far Too Weak”
- February 11, 2014 - “Nevada Sagebrush Bill: Not Enough for Grouse Conservation”
- February 13, 2014 - “Conservation Groups, Forest Service Agree to Strengthen Fracking Safeguards for 1.7 Million Acres of So Utah National Forests”
- March 14, 2014 - “Despite Population Crash, Wyoming Grouse Plan
- August 29, 2014 - "Utah May Fail First Test of State's Sage Grouse Conservation Plan"
- February 25, 2016 - "Lawsuit Fights Special Interest Loopholes in Greater Sage-Grouse Plans
- Species Factsheet
- Related Campaigns