Environment Forum

Sage-grouse map could help avoid wind farm fights

By Todd Woody
November 26, 2010

sage grouse

In an effort that could help avoid conflicts between wind energy developers and environmentalists, the United States Department of the Interior this week released a map that identifies breeding densities of the imperiled sage-grouse in 11 Western states.

The chicken-sized bird with a white breast and a plumage of brown, black and white feathers is dependent on a sage-brush habitat that also is favored by developers of wind farms in high-wind areas of the Western United States.

“This map and initiative will help advance our collaborative efforts with states and stakeholders to develop smart policy to enhance the sustainability of our sage-grouse populations,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.  “The final map will give Interior a strong foundation to identify land uses that do not compromise areas that are so critical to the greater sage-grouse.”

Development of all kinds has taken a toll on the ground-dwelling sage-grouse and environmental groups petitioned the federal government to put the bird on the endangered species list. In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that protection of the sage-grouse was warranted but that the bird would not be listed due to the need to protect other species first.

The map, prepared for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, pinpoints areas with sage grouse breeding densities that range from 25 percent to 100 percent across millions of acres in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming and Utah.  The Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are also included.

In those areas with sage-grouse breeding densities of at least 75 percent, about 60 percent of that land is owned by the federal government, 34 percent is in private ownership with states owning the remaining land.

Sage-grouse are most abundant in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Nevada, according to the Interior Department.

(Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior.)

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