Sage-grouse 101, Transmission Lines, and Collaborative Conservation
We kicked off our first morning with a conversation with Ken Rait, director of The Pew Charitable Trust's Western Lands Initiative, about public perception of the greater sage-grouse. While sage-grouse conservation navigates choppy political waters and debates among NGOs, government agencies and Western landowners, a recent survey found strong public support for plans to protect the bird.
Next, as we left Salt Lake City behind and hit the road for Colorado, we got a lesson in sage-grouse 101 from Pat Deibert, the national sage-grouse coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who joined us for the duration of the seven-day trip.
Once in Colorado, we piled into 4-wheel drive vehicles and headed to Seven Mile Ridge for an overview of the sage steppe ecosystem and to view the proposed route of a high-power transmission line. We heard from representatives from Conservation Colorado, The Wilderness Society, the Sage Grouse Initiative, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The group then headed to Craig, Colorado, where we heard about the long history of sage grouse in the West, and their importance to natives and early settlers. Researchers shared what they’ve learned about sage-grouse movements across the landscape. And Colorado’s sage grouse “czar” offered his take on the bird and conservation efforts at the state and federal level.
The journalists also learned that Sagebrush conservation can’t be accomplished without rangeland. Of the 245 million acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, 155 million are also managed for grazing. Other swaths of the Western landscape are privately owned rangeland. Some of the more promising sagebrush conservation efforts involve NGOs, state and federal agencies, and ranchers working together to conserve habitat. During this stop, the group met with ranchers, landowners, and representatives of the Audubon Society, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the BLM, the Sage Grouse Initiative, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's office.