Environment Forum

Sage-grouse map could help avoid wind farm fights

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.

Sage, wind and grouse: The “brown” side of clean energy?

CARBON, Wyoming – They used to mine coal in the abandoned town of Carbon. Now this patch of southern Wyoming is a battleground in the debate over what many hope will be the clean energy source of the future: wind power.

At the heart of the dispute are plans to build a network of wind farms in the American West that conservationists fear could disrupt threatened habitat such as sage brush, a dwindling piece of the region’s fragile ecosystem.

This has made the greater sage grouse — which as its name suggests is totally dependent on sage brush — an unlikely poster child for some U.S. environmentalists, in much the same way that the rare spotted owl became a symbol in the 1980s of pitched battles with the logging industry.

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