Greater sage-grouse  Centrocercus urophasianus
ESA status: none

This species has been awaiting Endangered Species Act listing for
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greater sage-grouse pc Alan St John

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.

photo credit:  Alan St. John