Oil and gas drilling in Colorado could drive these weird birds to the brink of extinction

A greater sage-grouse male struts at a lek (dancing or mating ground) to attract a mate.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Will reckless drilling in America's West cause sage grouse to go the way of the Dodo?

Venture out to sprawling western grasslands sometime during late spring, and you might be witness to one of the Animal Kingdom’s most bizarre mating rituals.

The greater sage-grouse, a not-too-distant relative of your average chicken, is perhaps best known for its elaborate courtship dance involving no small amount of fancy footwork and carefully choreographed chest puffs. In addition to putting on one of the most spectacular displays of weird nature, sage grouse are also an iconic and meaningful symbol of the American West. But, unfortunately, greater sage-grouse populations are at risk, due to creeping oil and gas development that destroys and fragments the habitats these birds need to survive.

Tell the government that critical greater sage-grouse habitats are too wild to drill!

Right now, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering how to manage both oil and gas drilling and conservation on nearly 1.7 million acres of native greater sage-grouse habitat in Colorado. To ensure that sage grouse habitat is protected, and kept off limits to drilling, the federal government needs to hear your voice!

In order to sustainably protect America’s remaining greater sage-grouse populations, dedicated protection areas need be established by the BLM in their upcoming management plan. These federally-operated regions will permanently set aside non-artificial habitats that support all of the greater sage-grouse’s biological needs. This landscape scale conservation technique will allow the species to perpetuate on its own, as it was able to do for many years before reckless development threatened its survival.

Greater sage-grouse are what ecologists call “permanent residents,” because these birds tend to stay put in one habitat area for their entire lifespan, even when temperatures drop during the colder winter months. Greater sage-grouse have historically roamed many parts of the West, and depend on up to hundreds of miles of sagebrush-dominated habitats for feeding and nesting grounds.

The Sage Grouse is well named, for it is found only in areas dominated by big sagebrush. Photo: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

The BLM can (and should) take meaningful steps to balance the species’ habitat needs with other land use practices. This doesn’t mean making an “either/or” decision—it means prioritizing sage grouse protection over energy development in certain key areas.

WATCH: Every spring, this bird struts its stuff

Video: Science Friday, YouTube

The Wilderness Society believes that both greater sage-grouse conservation and energy development can co-exist, if certain precautionary measures are folded into the BLM’s management plan. If development must occur within the bird’s habitat areas, roads and transmission lines should be constructed in a manner that minimizes and mitigates damage to greater sage-grouse habitat and overall surface disturbance. Additionally, existing and new disturbance should be monitored (using aerial and satellite imagery) and properly assessed so that plans for future energy leasing and permitting can be adjusted to ensure the sage grouse’s habitat is protected.

The management of greater sage-grouse habitat throughout the West in the coming years will influence future management decisions across the country, so it is important to get it right the first time.

Tell the government that critical greater sage-grouse habitats are too wild to drill!