Making a Bold Statement with a Small Bird: How the Sage Grouse is Emblematic of Tensions over Government Intervention

The sage grouse is a bird that made national headlines this week because of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to keep this animal off of the federal endangered species list. This verdict comes out of multiple years of tension between the federal government, environmentalists, and energy companies in contemplating how to best protect both the bird and financial interests.

Sage Grouse territory

As you can see from the image above there is growing concern over the bird’s habitat because some scientists have predicted that the drilling and mining taking place in these lands have decreased the sage grouse’s population by 90 percent. Many environmentalists called for substantial federal protection and regulation to conserve the bird’s habitat. Meanwhile, many energy companies and local communities were greatly concerned about this legislation because if the bird was classified as an endangered species, development near the bird’s habitat would be severely limited. Western ranchers, developers, and oil drillers were critical of the federal government’s possible intervention believing that they should have the right to control their own state energy and environmental policies. In an effort to satisfy all the concerned parties, the Obama administration reached the conclusion that the bird would not be placed on the endangered species list, rather, there will be guidelines on how to protect the bird’s habitats and these will be enforced by the state governments. The complex restrictions will include the promotion of directional drilling to avoid specific areas, measures to fight fires that threaten the environment, and the mapping and close surveillance of the birds to monitor their population.

While some environmentalists feel that this is a weak attempt to address the problem, government officials have said this is will produce the best results as it will encourage engagement at the local, state, and federal level. Regardless, the sage grouse’s classification will be reviewed again in 5 years to determine the success of these policies.

Dominica Whitesell
GIS analyst

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