Sage Grouse: The Love-Hate Thing Goes On

Out west, there is a problem. Sage grouse, those iconic sage desert birds, have long had declining populations, mostly due to habitat loss and human-related disturbance. Due to the distribution of sage grouse and the land use in the region, if sage grouse receive endangered species status, it will mean the curtailment of a lot of human uses of the land. This is a highly unpopular prospect. During the George W. Bush administration, there was quite a lot of interference with the reporting of sage grouse decline by government scientists, whose findings were censored, redacted, or just plain rewritten by supervising ideologues.

Various local governmental agencies have proposed anti-listing strategies for the sage grouse, essentially a lot of mealy-mouthed promises to fix the decline in populations themselves, you betcha, without the need for the federal government to apply a law that might as well have been written for the situation at hand. The locally-grown policies, you see, would pretty much allow people to continue doing what they’ve been doing, and endangered species protection would mostly not allow that. The fact that the locally-grown policies are, in a word, ineffective, is considered to be beside the point.

So the media out west has a tough time of it. They have to try to get into the swing of the regional stance, which is that everyone absolutely loves the sage grouse and are doing whatever they can to help them prosper again, just without federal “help”. But the underlying resentment that this, this chicken, might inconvenience someone who owns actual property, well, that bubbles right through everything said or written on the topic.

Today’s case in point is an article on the Boise State Public Radio website about the siting of a new regional airport.

In Idaho’s Sage Grouse Habitat, Rural Airports Come Second

By Frankie Barnhill • Feb 17, 2016

Seven places identified as possible long-term replacement sites for the Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey are smack-dab in the middle of sage grouse country. Loud airport noise, roads, buildings and towers are all things that could disturb the bird, which is famously particular about its habitat.


“So we had to inform [the airport board members] that approximately seven of their sites will no longer be allowed for consideration.”

The “particular about its habitat” phrase does have scientific support.

The headline seems to convey a sense of resentment. Given that the airport can (and will) be sited somewhere that isn’t in sage grouse priority habitat, what, exactly, is this article supposed to be about? If the goal is to convince the world that sage grouse conservation is a priority, no ESA listing required, it seems a better reporting strategy would have been to interview the airport manager on his eagerness to learn more from BLM on how best to site the airport to minimize impact on sage grouse populations.

The love-hate thing going on with sage grouse could apparently use a bit more tuning.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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