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Safeguarding Greater Sage-Grouse Habitats

Quick Facts about the Greater Sage-Grouse

Males "strut" on leks, or breeding grounds, between February and April.

Females build their nests on the ground and lay an average of 6 to 9 eggs.

Grouse chicks leave the nest with their mother soon after hatching and are capable of flight within 2 weeks.

Three of the largest remaining complexes of nesting and breeding sitesare located in Wyoming.

Two hundred years ago, millions of greater sage-grouse roamed much of the American West, nesting and breeding within healthy sagebrush ecosystems. Today, however, the sagebrush ecosystem that once covered much of western North America has undergone intense change and has been significantly impacted and fragmented by a wide array of threats, including energy and residential development, inappropriate grazing and drought.

As a result, populations of greater sage-grouse have experienced a dramatic decline, with an estimated range-wide population decline of nearly 80 percent. The Nature Conservancy has been working for many years throughout the West to conserve and restore sagebrush ecosystems by developing sound science and conservation tools to assist landowners, nonprofits, federal and local governments, and policy makers. The Conservancy participated in a peer-reviewed study that found the bird’s numbers will decline up to an additional 19 percent in the Intermountain-West if things remain status quo.

Using Science as a Foundation

Wyoming is in a unique position—the state is home to 37% of the world’s remaining greater sage-grouse populations. In 2008, Governor Freudenthal designated greater sage-grouse Core Population Areas in a step toward stabilizing and increasing greater sage grouse numbers within the state. Scientists from the Conservancy, National Audubon Society and the University of Montana conducted a rigorous analysis that substantiates the effectiveness of Wyoming’s plan. These core areas capture 82 percent of Wyoming’s greater sage-grouse population and comprise 23 percent of all land in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s (USFWS) decision to list the greater sage-grouse as "warranted but precluded" indicates that the species could be listed, but because there are currently so many candidate species, the agency is unable to do so at this time. The USFWS also believes sufficient actions will be taken to stop species decline and initiate recovery.

The Conservancy strongly supports Governor Freudenthal’s core areas plan as a credible approach to addressing greater sage-grouse habitat protection and the USFWS concerns. The Conservancy is taking our own steps to help protect this critical habitat. We are dedicated to working with partners, agencies and landowners to conserve 250,000 acres of sagebrush ecosystems across Wyoming. To date we have protected 113,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat, with over half of these being in the Governor’s core sage grouse conservation areas. 

Working on the Ground

Examples of Conservancy projects in Wyoming that are helping safeguard critical sagebrush habitat for the greater sage-grouse include:

Conservancy scientists led a study published in the journal PLOS ONE that indicates the importance of focusing on "core" habitat areas for sage-grouse.

Energy by Design: Understanding the various impacts to greate sage-grouse habitat is crucial to their protection. As energy development escalates in Wyoming, scientific planning gives industry and land managers critical tools for taking action to protect biodiversity. Conservancy scientists used a complex modeling program to pin-point on a map the best locations to conduct conservation projects to mitigate wildlife habitat lost in the 60,000-acre Jonah Field. 

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