Trump and the Greater Sage Grouse

Male Sage Grouse Strutting His Stuff

Male Sage Grouse Strutting His Stuff

Donald Trump wouldn’t know a Greater Sage Grouse if it bit him on the ass. He is profoundly ignorant of science, let alone ornithology. He is incurious as well, indifferent to the web of life upon which humanity depends. Characteristically, he has responded to his major campaign donors instead of the science in addressing the problems facing the Greater Sage Grouse.

As a consequence of that indifference, he appointed Ryan Zinke as his Secretary of the Interior. In effect, he has appointed the wolf to guard the sheep.

The Greater Sage Grouse is an endangered species in all but a final decision. Over the course of nearly ten years, instead of the full Endangered Species Act drill, the various stakeholders negotiated a Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan (large PDF). It’s a compromise. Any negotiated plan is a compromise. There are parts of its WC loathes, but the good parts outweigh the despicable parts. Large swaths of land are protected from development, preserving critical habitat. But hunting sage grouse – hunting an endangered species – will still be permitted. WC isn’t happy about it, but is willing to see if it works.

Ryan Zinke, who had no significant role in those negotiations, but listens mostly to unhappy cattle ranchers and the energy industry, is “reconsidering” those conservation plans. There’s a comment period, open until Friday, August 4. Here’s WC’s letter to Zinke.

Last year, I was able to get to a Greater Sage Grouse lek for the first time, and watch more than 100 birds perform their ancient courtship. It was an inspiring sight. But it also signals the perils facing these birds and the sagebrush steppe. To survive as a species, they need a high enough density to congregate in leks. But habitat loss, invasive species like cheatgrass, increasing numbers and severity of range fires and human disruption have indisputably decimated these birds’ populations.

A painfully negotiated management plan is in place. It doesn’t satisfy everyone – compromises rarely do – but the alternatives are either permitting extermination of a keystone species or the much more constraining consequences of classification as an endangered species.

I beg you to allow the conservation plans to have a chance. Don’t reopen this can of worms. The most likely result would be an endangered species classification and a court-mandated protection plan that would be even more controversial than the negotiated plan. I, and others like me, won’t allow the Greater Sage Grouse to vanish from the West without a serious fight. We don’t have to have that fight. Give the plans a chance.

Among all of the other problems that Trump is creating for America, the fate of a bunch of chicken-sized birds may seem minor. But there used to be 16 million Greater Sage Grouse; now there are maybe 250,000. We need to act. Before the species follows the Passenger Pigeon into extinction. Sacrificing sage grouse habitat for more cattle grazing or more energy production is staggeringly short-sighted.

WC doesn’t often issue calls to action at this blog, but this one time when it might help. You can use National Audubon’s portal if you are so inclined.