The greater sage-grouse is a charismatic bird. In springtime, the males fan their tail feathers and perform elaborate dances to impress the ladies.
These grouse live in the west in shrub-steppes, wide open grasslands dominated by sagebrush.
“They are dependent on sagebrush, which makes up almost all their diet in the winter,” says Derek Stinson, a staff biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In his state, the birds are listed as threatened because of habitat loss.
“Much of the shrub-steppe has been converted to agriculture,” he says. “So the sage-grouse have been pushed into areas where there’s more of the shrub-steppe left.”
Now many of those areas are disappearing as intense wildfires become more frequent. Stinson says when fires raged across Washington state last September, at least half of their habitat was really destroyed.
“And it takes 10 to 20 years for that sage brush to recover,” he says.
He estimates that as a result, Washington’s population of sage-grouse has been cut in half.
So Stinson’s department has recommended that the state change the sage-grouse’s status to endangered. A final decision should be made early this year.
Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.