Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are the largest grouse in North America and are known for the spectacular mating displays. East spring at dawn, groups of males gather together groups called “leks”, fan their tails, puff out the yellow air sacs on their chests and strut back and forth making a variety of popping noises to attract mates.
Threats to Greater Sage-Grouse
Sage-Grouse are a sagebrush obligate species, meaning that they are dependent on sagebrush ecosystems for their survival. The”sagebrush sea” was once one of the most widespread ecosystems in the United States but today much of what once existed has been converted, fragmented and degraded. Grazing, development, changing fire regimes, invasive plant species, and other factors have left our sagebrush ecosystems in dire condition and the Greater Sage-Grouse at risk of extinction.
In 2005 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a petition to list the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, that decision was overturned by federal courts which found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider the best available science. In 2010 the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that Sage-Grouse listing was “warranted but precluded” under the Endangered Species Act on the basis that there were other species in more dire need of listing at that time. The Courts gave USFWS until 2015 to make a final determination about the need to list Sage-Grouse.
In 2015, the US Fish and Wildlife Service narrowly avoided listing the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act by adopting conservation plans to protect and recover Sage-Grouse across 11 western states. The US Fish and Wildlife Service asserted that the plans were sufficient to protect and recover sage grouse without the added protections that would have been provided by the ESA. Portland Audubon and many other conservation groups felt that even with these plans, sage grouse still merited an ESA listing and that federal and state agencies would be less likely to follow through on required actions without the listing. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is required to revisit the decision not to list the sage-grouse every five years.
Portland Audubon’s Work to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse
Portland Audubon has been advocating for the protection and recovery of Sage-Grouse since the 1990s. In 1994 Portland Audubon commissioned a status review for sage-grouse in Oregon and Washington. For the past decade, Portland Audubon has actively participate in the Oregon Sage-grouse Partnership (SageCon) which developed and now implementing the Oregon Sage-Grouse Action Plan.
Progress since 2015 has been limited. Some elements of the plan have not been implemented, the State of Oregon has failed in the 2017-18 biennium to allocated adequate funding, and in 2019 the Trump Administration rolled back some protections on federal lands that were part of the plans that allowed the government to avoid listing Sage-Grouse in 2015. It appears at this point that Sage-Grouse will need the full protection of the ESA when the listing decision next comes up for review.
Current Portland Audubon Actions
- Participating in SageCon implementing and evaluating the Oregon Sage-Grouse Action Plan
- Advocating for funding to implement the Oregon-Sage grouse Action Plan in the Oregon Legislature
- Opposing misguided efforts by ODFW to kill ravens in Baker County to protect nesting Sage-Grouse from depredation while inadequately addressing primary causes of Sage-Grouse decline.