WASHINGTON—A new study of the greater sage-grouse’s population finds that the bird’s numbers decreased 56 percent between 2007 and 2013. The research, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts and conducted by Edward (Oz) Garton, Ph.D., professor emeritus in wildlife ecology and statistics at the University of Idaho, is the most recent comprehensive population update to Garton’s seminal greater sage-grouse research of 2011.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages more than half of the bird’s remaining habitat and is expected to release management plans for 50 million acres of sage-grouse habitat in late spring, with the plans to be finalized in late summer.
“This report provides definitive evidence about the fragile state of the greater sage-grouse, an indicator species for the health of the interior West’s sagebrush region—where hundreds of other wildlife and plant species also live,” said Ken Rait, director of Pew’s U.S. public lands project. “We hope that this latest data will be used by the BLM and Western states to develop strong science-based land management plans that responsibly balance adequate protection of the sage-grouse and this important habitat with energy development and other land uses across the interior West.”
The report, Greater Sage-Grouse Population Dynamics and Probability of Persistence, found a sharp decline in the number of breeding males—from 109,990 in 2007 to 48,641 in 2013—and noted that “sage-grouse populations across the range are declining even faster than the best models forecast for this past six years.”
Once numbering in the millions, the greater sage-grouse has diminished in the past century from its original distribution across the North American continent, due to the loss of 50 percent of the sagebrush steppe habitat. The bird depends on sagebrush for food and shelter, in a region that is also home to mule deer, pronghorn, golden eagles, and elk.
“Our research should and must ring alarm bells,” Garton said. “These numbers indicate to us that if significant protections aren’t established, this important bird and the entire sagebrush steppe region face irreparable harm.”
The report, Rait said, “adds to a growing body of evidence that should encourage the administration to establish broad conservation measures for this at-risk ecosystem. Research has indicated the enormous contribution that recreation on sage-grouse habitat has made to rural economies in the West.”
“Research also shows that Western residents, including hunters and anglers, strongly support a balance between sage-grouse conservation and energy development,” added Rait. “This is not an either/or choice, and the BLM and states still have the time to get it right in order to protect the sage-grouse and safeguard the Western way of life.”
The report examined data collected by state, federal, and other wildlife biologists and analyzed by Garton; Adam Wells, Ph.D., affiliate faculty and research scientist at Washington State University; Jeremy Baumgardt, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scientist at Texas A&M University; and Jack Connelly, Ph.D., retired research scientist at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at www.pewtrusts.org.