Chicken Fights

Lesser Prairie Chicken. Photo courtesy of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service/Flickr

Lesser Prairie Chicken. Photo courtesy of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service/Flickr

Last Dance?

Researchers push to prevent a last dance for the lesser prairie chicken.

Science  June 19, 2015

By Marianne Lavelle

HEALY, KANSAS—At first, there’s no sound or motion on the dance floor, just the far-off howl of a lone coyote and the rhythmic thump of a distant oil well. So the scientists wait, keeping a close watch on a scraggly patch of grassland lit only by a crescent moon. Spatial ecologist Tom Lipp, a graduate student at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio, sets a sound recorder in a clearing. Avian ecologist Samantha Robinson, who is doing her graduate work at Kansas State University (KSU), Manhattan, zips herself into a snug tent-style blind with a thermos of coffee and a notebook….The stakeout is a part of an urgent $5 million effort, stretching across five states and involving nearly 100 researchers, to learn more about this relatively mysterious bird and save it from extinction…

More is at stake than the fate of a single showy bird, whose home range coincides with the heartland of American agriculture and the epicenter of an energy boom. The research effort could help generate tens of millions of dollars to protect prairie habitats—and determine how lucrative industries that employ thousands of people will operate in prairie chicken country. It will test the scientific, political, and economic feasibility of a controversial Obama administration plan to give state governments and private landowners a bigger voice in endangered species management. Read the full story at Science.

Greater sage grouse. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Pacific Southwest Region/Jeannie Stafford/USFS/Flickr Creative Commons.

Greater sage grouse. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Pacific Southwest Region/Jeannie Stafford/USFS/Flickr Creative Commons.

Sage Grouse War

Endangered Species Battle Tests Limits of Partnership in the West

Science  June 19, 2015

By Marianne Lavelle

When Jack Connelly first began studying the greater sage grouse in Idaho in the late 1970s, “it was not unusual to see 500 in a single flock,” says the biologist, who is retired from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “Today, it would be unusual to see 200.”

That dramatic decline has made the sage grouse—a large, pointy-tailed bird with showy mating habits—the subject of one of the biggest endangered-species battles ever in the United States. President Barack Obama’s administration is under court order to decide by 30 September how to protect the bird: declare it an endangered species—the nuclear option in conservation—or opt for the less onerous conservation strategies…An endangered listing could have widespread economic and environmental consequences. The sage grouse’s remaining population is spread over 67 million hectares in 11 western states, pitting it against farming, ranching, mining, and energy interests…

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this issue is the mother of all [endangered species] decisions,” says forestry scientist Eric Washburn, of the law and lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, D.C. Read the full story at Science.