According to a 2010 University of Idaho study, determining exact sage grouse population numbers is impossible (it's estimated that there are 150,000-400,000 in 11 states); but whatever that number is, sage grouse wield significant power when it comes to the region's environmental choices. And as federal officials mull whether to put it on the endangered species list, this morning's New York Times reports that the grouse is "at the center of one of the country's most important struggles: to balance the demand for energy against the needs of nature."
The sage grouse, sometimes called the “prairie chicken,” is known for an elaborate strutting dance the male birds perform when courting females. The species eats sagebrush, which is disappearing as its desert habitat is being developed.
And in a story called "Frack Quietly, Please: Sage Grouse Is Nesting," this morning's Times chronicles the "prairie chicken's" influence.
“Remember the economic impact of the spotted owl and how much it reduced timber production on federal lands?” said Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner. “The sage grouse has seven times the acreage of the spotted owl. You are looking at billions of dollars in lost economic activity, millions of dollars in lost state and local revenues and tens of thousands of jobs being lost.”
Interestingly, the sage grouse debate appears to have taken the biggest toll on wind energy, stalling several planned projects.
To date, federal officials have delayed, altered or denied permits to more than two dozen energy projects in the West because of the bird.