Save greater sage-grouse, save the economy

Male sage grouse on a lek, or courtship display.

Steve Fairbairn / USFWS

New study shows that greater sage-grouse habitat is vital to local economies

Greater sage-grouse might be brown, white, and yellow, but their habitat means green for nearby communities—green as in cold hard cash.

The iconic but imperiled western birds might be best known for their love of open spaces and quirky mating dances, but two new studies show that greater sage-grouse habitat is worth millions to western economies.

Habitat worth $623 million to local economies, $1 billion to US economy

A study from the Pew Charitable Trust and Western Values Project found that greater sage-grouse habitat—the sagebrush seas found across the west—generates more than $623 million for western communities every year, just from recreation visits. Hikers, bikers, campers, hunters, and anglers all visit these open spaces, and bring tourism dollars to local communities. This spending results in total economic output of over $1 billion for the U.S. economy.

A second study published in the journal Ecosphere also highlighted the importance of greater sage-grouse habitat for other species, especially mule deer, in the west.

“Greater sage-grouse habitat includes some of the best habitat and wilderness-quality land left in the nation—it’s obvious that economic benefits of wild places would be found in the same places you find greater sage-grouse,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM action center.

To protect or not to protect? How The Wilderness Society is helping

Photo: Leking sage grouse and pronghorn male.Tatiana Gettelman, Flickr.

Greater sage-grouse have been found in a contentious debate this past year, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weighs whether or not to list bird under the Endangered Species Act. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees many of the lands greater sage-grouse call home, is currently preparing plans to protect the birds, and hopefully keep them from becoming endangered.

The Wilderness Society has been working closely with ranchers, local communities and the BLM itself to protect the most important greater sage-grouse habitats.

“We need to protect the best sagebrush habitats for all of the values they have—not just the economic ones, but the water quality, the wildlife habitat, and the value of wild,” said Culver.