Say Good-Bye to Sage Grouse

The campaign to eradicate sage grouse continues. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on Nevada Gov. Gibbons and his comments on possible listing of sage grouse as endangered:

Gibbons said it’s important to protect the sage grouse, but it shouldn’t be listed as endangered because that could make it “virtually impossible to develop renewable energy in Nevada. Additionally, broader economic development would be severely undermined.”

The Nevada Department of Wildlife has a handy page showing their sage grouse plan. The PDF there has a figure that plainly shows the shrinking regions where sage grouse range in Nevada, and another showing sage grouse leks. That’s useful for comparing to renwewable energy geographic data.

How, exactly, would “renewable energy” in Nevada be impaired if sage grouse were given official recognition of their status as a species on the brink of extinction? Nevada solar power will be installed in or in proximity to already-developed areas that already have disturbed sage grouse by habitat loss. Scratch solar as a problem. Nevada already has developed geothermal power, with obvious infrastructure in the form of both high-voltage lines and geothermal power plants installed. And there’s more good news: the recorded sage grouse leks do not appear to have much, if any, overlap with the map of geothermal sites. Scratch geothermal as a problem. Wind power relies on taking advantage of geographic features that concentrate wind energy, typically hills. Wind power does represent something that could disturb sage grouse, primarily due to noise, if the installations are near to sage grouse leks. From the NDOW sage grouse plan:

Wind energy development also has potential to impact sage-grouse and/or sage-grouse habitats. Areas within Nevada are currently being monitored for suitability as wind energy sites. These developments include the turbine to harness the energy, as well as the access to the sites, and transmission lines from the site to substations or other existing power grids. Therefore, this type of land use change has a variety of potential impacts to sage-grouse.

The maps show limited areas of overlap of “excellent” wind power sites with sage grouse leks. Basically, the lines of wind power sites to the south-south-east of Wells and of Austin might not be developable, but the “excellent” wind power sites along the southern border of Nevada (that is, near most of Nevada’s population in Las Vegas, Reno, and Carson City) have no such overlap with sage grouse leks. Maybe wind power could not be developed to the degree that it could if continued sage grouse eradication were simply policy, but saying that it is “impossible” to develop looks to be utterly false.

Looking at the NDOW sage grouse plan doesn’t support the governor’s second statement that “broader economic development would be severely undermined”. Broader economic development would have to take into account a commitment to preserve sage grouse populations; to some people, any inconvenience at all counts as “severe undermining”, I guess. For some people, unless conservation is utterly painless and without cost, it just isn’t worth doing. It appears that Governor Gibbons is part of that group. At the moment, a lot of those people are in power, and have effectively shut down efforts to provide sage grouse with the protections that the law grants species that manage to be recognized as endangered. So, it may be time to say good-bye to inconvenient sage grouse.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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