DENVER, COLO. — A new report issued by the U.S. Geological Service shows there has been a steep 80% decline in sage grouse populations in the western United States since 1966, with nearly a 40% decline since 2002. Sage grouse numbers are a barometer for the overall health of the sagebrush ecosystem, which is home to 350 species of wildlife. The report does not list causes for the decline, but scientists say that impacts from climate change, wildfires, invasive species such as cheat grass, and oil and gas development all play a role.
Earlier this month, in a separate Sagebrush Conservation Strategy report, USGS concluded that sagebrush habitat has been shrinking rapidly because of wildfire, invasive grasses and human development. Conservation organizations say that without intervention, sage grouse populations will only continue a downward spiral.
“We cannot ignore this alarm bell. This report shows that much more needs to be done to restore sagebrush habitat so that sage grouse populations recover and that all wildlife that lives in this ecosystem thrives,” said David Willms, senior director of western wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation. “As westerners, we are defined by our sweeping landscapes and wildlife. If we ignore reports like this, we do so at our own peril.”
“This news should ring alarm bells whether or not you have heard of sagebrush or the sage-grouse,” said Brian Rutledge, director of the National Audubon Society’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative. “These birds are found across 11 Western states and are a reliable indicator of how other wildlife and the greater ecosystem are doing. It’s clear, they need help. Six years ago, stakeholders from across the West put politics aside and reached an agreement to save this landscape – an agreement that the last administration ignored and undermined. It’s time to come back together, listen to the science, and to conserve and restore this ecosystem while we still can.”
“Protections for sage-grouse habitat go far beyond the bird itself. The sagebrush steppe they inhabit supports Wyoming’s mule deer herds and other iconic species, along with outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing, and everything else we cherish about public lands in Wyoming,” said Alan Rogers, communications director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “So long as we have healthy sage-grouse populations, we can continue to enjoy the quality of life that Wyoming’s wide-open spaces provide.”
“Today’s report makes it clear there is no time to waste. As the sage-grouse declines, the threat to the sagebrush ecosystem and the wildlife it supports grows,” said Josh Axelrod, senior advocate for the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If we are to preserve this iconic species, its habitat, and the western landscape as we know it, our efforts must get at the larger drivers fueling the climate and biodiversity crises.”
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