Sometime next year, the Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to include the greater sage grouse on an updated endangered species list. The decision could have profound impact on energy development in Western states. The energy industry is now making a push to keep the bird off the list.
That's because the grouse, a ground-dwelling, two-foot-tall bird with brown and white feathers, has a massive habitat, running from California to Colorado and all states further north of that, encompassing 2.4 million acres. The total area of federal oil and gas leases currently on hold in Wyoming alone while the federal government mulls the decision is 10,000 acres.
The Western Energy Alliance, an industry group, is trying to build public pressure against a designation. It argues that government is "using flawed science" in its decision. This is in turn discouraging efforts that are better suited to finding ways to protect the species without also harming the economy.
The alliance is making its case in a series of radio and online ads. One ad states: "Across the American west, scientists, universities, states and local governments work closely with the energy industry, ranchers and sportsmen to revitalize and protect the sage grouse. Unfortunately, an upcoming federal ruling threatens to bring state and local conservation efforts to a screeching halt, and with it our rural, Western way of life. Let's work together to give the sage grouse and our Western economy a fighting chance."
Environmental groups, like the Center for Biological Diversity, have cited the grouse's status as a reason to stop drilling throughout the West. "A few companies may squeeze some short-term profits out of it, but the long-term effect will be pushing these great prairie birds to the brink of extinction," said the center, which is heavily involved in Endangered Species Act litigation, in a June statement.
The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife puts the total grouse population at 200,000 to 400,000. For comparison's sake, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced last year it was considering delisting the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act because the total population had hit 5,360 in the lower 48 states.