Conservation Colorado: Good news for funky bird with funky dance
Greater sage grouse do not currently need protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This week’s announcement has me wanting to burst with joy. It’s as exciting as a Broncos’ touchdown. It’s a moment I’ve been working toward for the past six years, ever since the greater sage grouse became a candidate for protection of the ESA. All of us at Conservation Colorado agree that the comprehensive development and implementation of federal and state land use and greater sage grouse plans will provide the opportunity to go above and beyond the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
With the plans now fully developed, implementation will be key. It’s critical that we work together to enact the BLM plans and ensure every state plan strives to complement the important conservation objectives for federal lands on adjacent private and state lands. These plans, working together, can ensure that greater sage grouse and our sagebrush landscapes remain healthy and productive for generations to enjoy. Personally, my hope is that my nephews will never have to witness a sagebrush sea silent of the voices of greater sage grouse and the hundreds of other animals that rely on this land to live.
No matter how strong a plan is, it is only as effective as its implementation. Now more than ever, people of all walks of life must continue to move forward the great work that has been happening these past six years. Now is not the time to leave the ball at the line of scrimmage; we need to play through to the very last second of the very last quarter. And we are seeing real wins for the species, with greater sage grouse numbers up over 60 percent in the past few years, as counted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
At Conservation Colorado, our work on this issue has extended far beyond policy and politics; we’ve developed a successful economy around grouse tourism, aided in essential scientific data collection, and put boots on the ground to effect meaningful conservation measures. The day after the announcement, I was out in the sage near Colorado’s largest greater sage grouse lek working with volunteers, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative to remove four miles of old fence from the range. Old fence removal eliminates perches and structures used by grouse predators. It also reduces barriers for antelope, mule deer and elk. With tons of old fence removed there will be fewer tripping hazards for hikers and hunters.
In the coming weeks and months I’ll work in my role at Conservation Colorado to continue to bring people together to conserve sagebrush. I’ll be working side by side with area business owners to further develop the economic model of Greater sage grouse tourism. Over the past six years of leading grouse tours, I’ve gotten used to spring mornings that start at 3 a.m. I expect more of the same next year, not as a tour provider but in lending a hand with grouse counts, banding and stewardship projects.
Conservation Colorado will also continue to work hard to ensure that government plans and projects are done in a way that either avoids harm to our fragile landscape or provides meaningful mitigation measures to compensate for unavoidable habitat damages. For example, we will encourage and review the Colorado Habitat Exchange program that I wrote about in this column last month.
Make no mistake, we’ll also hold ourselves and all stakeholders accountable to their commitments. In the coming years U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review our collective progress by accessing the health of the greater sage grouse population so if we don’t continue to see real recovery of the species an ESA listing would be revisited.
This week, it feels like I got to spike the ball at the end of a touchdown, do a little funky chicken dance and celebrate the power of people working together. The scope and scale of this unprecedented effort to conserve sagebrush is astounding. It highlights that, through collaboration, diverse interests can achieve unbelievable results — focusing on a shared goal and not our perceived differences. For the sake of the greater sage grouse and the sake of our community, I hope we will see more, similar processes as we continue to work on complex conservation issues. Working together, we are creating a Colorado with cleaner air and water, healthy wildlife, and healthy, productive communities.
Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.
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