The goal of this task is to provide a fact-based framework for assessing potential impacts of coalbed natural gas (CBNG) to sage grouse populations. If impacts are identified, research findings will provide the biological basis for ways to mitigate identified impacts.
University of Montana, Missoula, MT
Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Miles City and Billings, MT, Buffalo and Cheyenne, WY
The greater sage-grouse has become a national icon for conservation of the sage-steppe ecosystem in western North America. Previously widespread, the species has been extirpated from ~50 percent of its original range, with estimated population declines of 15-90 percent since the 1970s. Loss and degradation of habitat from anthropogenic change is the most important factor leading to isolation, reduction, and extirpation of populations.
CBNG development in the Powder River Basin is a major component of America’s bid to minimize its dependence on foreign energy sources. Disagreements among government, industry, and environmental groups concerning the adequacy of best management practices to safeguard sage grouse populations have influenced speed and location of development. The crux of the issue lies in understanding whether sage grouse populations are impacted by land use change associated with CBNG development. Specific is the need to know whether birds are avoiding development and whether sage grouse productivity in developed areas is lower than that in undeveloped landscapes.
These and other concerns, such as WNV, were important contributors to the process that led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to consider protecting sage grouse populations under the Endangered Species Act. A “not warranted” decision from FWS on January 7, 2005, now places implementation of conservation measures squarely on the shoulders of Federal and State agencies and their successful interactions with “sage grouse local working groups.”
The public has placed the onus on government to show leadership in sage grouse conservation because Federal agencies such as the BLM own and manage >60 percent of remaining sagebrush habitats. Federal agencies have called on the scientific community to evaluate whether CBNG development impacts sage grouse populations, and if so, to develop conservation planning tools that empower government to facilitate energy development while providing sound environmental protections.
The following is a summary of results to date for this research:
Spatially-explicit planning tools, when coupled with knowledge of bird movements and active lek locations, provide a biological basis for decision-makers to formulate an effective conservation strategy for sage grouse. The next step for stakeholders is to formulate a strategy, evaluate alternatives, and initiate implementation.
Additional research goals are to:
Project terminated due to budget shortfall.
This project is part of an Interagency Agreement (Federal Lands Technical Partnership) through a Memorandum of Understanding between DOE and the Bureau of Land Management. Other non-governmental contributors include National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Petroleum Association of Wyoming, Western Gas Incorporated, Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation, Budweiser, and Bighorn Environmental Consulting.