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Sage Grouse
Lekking male, Grand Teton National Park
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognatha
Superorder: Galloanserae
Order: Galliformes
Family: Tetraonidae (disputed)
Genus: Centrocercus
Species: C. urophasianus
Binomial name
Centrocercus urophasianus
(Bonaparte, 1827)
Subspecies
  • Centrocercus urophasianus phaios
  • Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus

The Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is the largest grouse in North America, where it is known as the Greater Sage-Grouse. Its range is sagebrush country in the western United States and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. The Gunnison Grouse was recently recognized as a separate species[1], and the Mono Basin population of Sage Grouse may also be distinct.

Adults have a long, pointed tail and legs with feathers to the toes. Adult males have a yellow patch over the eye, are greyish on top with a white breast, a dark brown throat and a black belly; two yellowish sacs on the neck are inflated during courtship display. Adult females are mottled grey-brown with a light brown throat and dark belly.

Contents

Ecology

This species is a permanent resident. Some move short distances to lower elevations for winter. These birds forage on the ground. They mainly eat sagebrush, also insects and other plants. They are not able to digest hard seeds like other grouse. They nest on the ground under sagebrush or grass patches.

Sage Grouse are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate in leks and perform a "strutting display". Groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males to mate with. Only a few males do most of the breeding. Males perform in leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring months. Lek generally occur in open areas adjacent to dense sagebrush stands, and the same lekking ground may be used by grouse for decades.

Status

Residential building and energy development have caused the sage grouse population to decline from 16 million 100 years ago to 200,000 today.[2] The fossil fuel industry, which calls for unimpeded expansion into untapped land throughout the Western United States, has been the primary opponent to federal endangered species protection for the bird.[3]

This species is in decline due to loss of habitat; the bird's range has shrunk in historical times, having been extirpated from British Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico. Though the sage grouse as a whole is not considered endangered by the IUCN, local populations may be in serious danger of extinction. In May 2000, the Canadian Species at Risk Act listed the Centrocercus urophasianus phaios, formerly found in British Columbia, as being extirpated in Canada[4]. The presence of subfossil bones at Conkling Cave and Shelter Cave in southern New Mexico show that the species was present south of its current range at the end of the last ice age, leading some experts to project that the species could become increasingly vulnerable as global climate change increases the humidity in semiarid regions.[5]

In the United States, the species is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, even though under the George W. Bush Administration, then-deputy secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie A. MacDonald ruled that the sage grouse did not need protection. In December 2007, following MacDonald's abrupt resignation and an internal investigation, a court in Iowa overturned her decision, citing the "inexcusable conduct of one of its own executives...who was neither a scientist nor a sage grouse expert." According to the court's ruling, MacDonald had a "well-documented history of intervening in the listing process." [6][7]

A petition was signed by American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems, Forest Guardians, The Fund for Animals, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, The Larch Company, The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Predator Defense Institute, Sierra Club, Sinapu, Western Fire Ecology Center, Western Watersheds Project, Wild Utah Project, and Wildlands CPR.[2] In 2010, after a second review, the Department of the Interior assigned the sage grouse a status known as "warranted but precluded," essentially putting it on a waiting list (behind more critically threatened species) for federal protection. Even though the sage grouse was not added to the endangered species list, the 2010 decision essentially reversed MacDonald's 2004 ruling by acknowledging that it is endangered.

Illustrating the divide between U.S. scientists and politicians on the issue, Utah republican Jason Chaffetz said that "The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro."[2]

Footnotes

References

External links

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