Monday, October 26, 2009

Sage Grouse and Energy Development in the Intermountain West

A new study of Greater Sage Grouse predicts that continuing energy development along current lines would lead to a 7-19% reduction in the Greater Sage Grouse population.
Sage-grouse populations are considered indicators of ecosystem health and have been closely monitored by state game and fish agencies over the past decade. The greater sage-grouse is currently a candidate for Endangered Species listing -- a result that would have far reaching implications for a wide range of industries in the region.

"Sage-grouse are useful in prioritizing conservation because their abundance is indicative of large and intact shrub-dominated grasslands, the most endangered ecosystem in North America," said study co-author, Dr. David Naugle, Associate Professor, University of Montana. "Challenges with sage-grouse are a harsh reminder that the value of small-scale conservation actions may be negated if large-scale cumulative impacts are ignored."

The new study and its detailed maps of the Intermountain West indicates that future oil and gas drilling could impact up to 9.1 million acres of sagebrush shrub lands and 2.7 million acres of grasslands -- key sage-grouse habitat.
How to balance energy production and the welfare of Sage Grouse and other grassland animals is a pressing issue. Demand for energy is constantly increasing due to population growth and new technologies, as well as economic development elsewhere in the world. Since 1950, energy demand has increased by 50%, and the same increase is expected over the next two decades. As a result, governments and the energy industry feel the need to expand energy production into areas where it would probably be better if they did not go. Drilling on the grasslands of the intermountain west is detrimental to a variety of grasslands specialists, especially the Greater Sage Grouse.

It would be better for the energy companies if they could figure out how to reduce their impact on grasslands now. If not, Greater Sage Grouse will have to be listed as an Endangered Species (it probably should have been listed already), and more severe restrictions will have to be set until the population is stable again. Unfortunately this press release does not offer any suggested solutions; I am not sure if the authors of the study do.