Grouse, Green Goals, Collaboration Required

Sage grouse in a part of Wyoming where Shell has gas fields. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Sage grouse in a part of Wyoming where Shell has gas fields. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Conservation is a classic collective action challenge. Collaboration is a requisite for success. This New York Times report on the struggle between the energy needs of a country, and efforts to conserve a bird species illustrates how green priorities can sometimes conflict in unexpected ways, and how cooperation can prevail for the common good:

…On paper, at least, the Wyoming plan is in line with federal goals, officials say. It cordons off large areas as critical for the bird to survive, and its authors say it is the best compromise they could fashion.

Nestled in the gray-green sagebrush on the sprawling ranches or pecking their way along the dusty roads near the Pinedale Anticline gas fields, the squat, mottled-brown birds appeared unruffled. But they are persnickety creatures easily disturbed by human activities. Every year, males return to relatively open areas called leks, splaying their tail feathers and puffing up their chests as they waddle and call to attract hens. Vulnerable to predators like coyotes and eagles, the grouse depends on vast expanses of sagebrush for food and shelter. Wyoming’s plan would restrict development to levels that would not disturb the birds. For example, it would limit surface disturbance to 5 percent a square mile and ban activity within 0.6 miles of the leks.

Many environmentalists say those limitations are inadequate. “Development within six miles of a lek really hurts the bird,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. The center says broader priority habitats need to be set aside to guarantee population growth.

Paradoxically, the issue has taken the biggest toll on wind, a renewable source of energy considered important in the fight against climate change, which itself threatens the bird’s future.

Although Wyoming’s wide-open landscape makes it home to some of the country’s strongest winds, several planned projects have stalled. The one that is proceeding on the ranch near the Sierra Madres owned by the billionaire Philip F. Anschutz’s company will be less productive than it might have been.

On a recent afternoon at the ranch, Garry L. Miller, a vice president at the Power Company of Wyoming, which oversees the project, stood high on a hill overlooking expanses of sagebrush. He pointed out how the companyhad changed its plan to avoid a slope that is prime grouse habitat. “There is no bright line for us. We stand over there, we can put a turbine. We stand over there, we can’t,” he said.

In the end, even officials like Bob Budd, chairman of the state team trying to save the bird, say their efforts may not be enough. “It’s the gazillion-dollar question we are all wrestling with,” he said.

One thought on “Grouse, Green Goals, Collaboration Required

  1. Pingback: We All Like a Good Lek | Raxa Collective

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