From Flickr, copyright Dan Dzurisin (NDomer73)The greater Sage Grouse is an iconic prairie bird. Forty years ago, when we first began keeping records, hundreds were strutting their stuff on our Canadian prairies; this past year only 13 males were counted in Alberta, and 35 in Saskatchewan. Scientists say the species’ days in Alberta could be numbered – they could be gone as early as next year.
The cause of their rapid decline is simple: loss of sagebrush habitat – the only habitat in which they can live – due to oil and gas exploration. The birds will not go within 1.9 kilometers of a disturbed area, so the fractured landscape created by oil and gas exploration basically shuts them out of their natural habitat.
Sage grouse males are known for their complex courtship dance, where they puff up the colourful air sacs in their chest with up to 5 liters of air, and make otherworldly sounds to attract a female. What was once a common sight on the prairies now attracts people by the hundreds to see the last remaining few.
They were first recognized as a species that ‘may be at risk’ in 1996, and were listed as endangered under Alberta's Wildlife Act in 2000. Since 1996 the population has crashed by more than 90 percent. Read about the politics of saving the sage grouse here and here.
So, what’s the value of a species? Do we let the greater sage grouse fade to black? Only public pressure for swift action in defense of this species will help now.
Contact the Alberta Wilderness Association for more details.