During mating season, the greater sage-grouse gather in “leks” where the males perform an extraordinary strutting ritual. Standing in the brush, they spread out their long, spiky tail feathers and puff out their chests to reveal strange yellow air sacks. “I’m here, I’m here, pick me,” they seem to be saying to the females, though it sounds more like “swish-swish-coo-oopoink.” The sage grouse are iconic in a series of western states, and now the subject of one of the largest federal conservation efforts in history. From this September, millions of acres of mating grounds are set to be protected under plans drawn up by the U.S. Interior Department and a host of state agencies.
“It is by far the largest comprehensive plan for an individual species. When it comes to together fully, it will cover portions of 11 western states and cover billions of acres,” says David Hayes, a former deputy secretary of the interior and now a visiting fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Estimates show up to 16 million grouse once lived in the west, and that numbers now have fallen as low as 500,000. The federal plan would limit energy and other development on 20 million hectares of federal land—or about 65% of all grouse habitats—and create buffer zones around breeding grounds (the leks), in hopes of rebuilding populations.
More on this conservation plan here.
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