Photo Credit: Marcella Fremgen
On September 22, 2015, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel announced that the greater sage-grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act. Once numbering in the millions, development, ranching, and oil and gas extraction have reduced greater sage-grouse numbers to a few hundred thousand. While this loss has led to divisiveness across the sagebrush steppe, it has also led to some remarkable collaboration. Individuals and groups ranging from ranchers to governmental organizations, and from non-profits to scientists, have collaborated in voluntary conservation efforts, significantly reducing threats to the greater sage-grouse and the ecosystem they depend on. These collaborative conservation efforts, and their success in keeping an iconic species off the endangered species list, have become a model for conservation in the west.
Just one week after the landmark decision was made, participants in The Magnificent Moose, a Road Scholar program offered by Teton Science Schools, took part these conservation efforts, spending six days in Wyoming doing service projects to improve the wildlife habitat for charismatic species such as moose, elk, deer, pronghorn, and the greater sage-grouse.
One of the threats to the greater sage-grouse is the oil and gas extraction that dots the sagebrush landscape across the west, disrupting traditional sage-grouse breeding grounds. Wyoming has more sage-grouse leks, or aggregations of males during the mating season, than any other state. However, Wyoming’s biggest industry is mining, which includes oil, gas, and coal extraction, and the potential impact on leks is great.
Magnificent Moose participants spent two days working at the Cottonwood Ranch near Pinedale, the first ranch in Wyoming to undertake restoration projects to help mitigate the impacts of oil and gas extraction in the state. In addition to removing obsolete fencing that hinders wildlife movement across the ranch, participants installed reflectors on fences to reduce greater sage-grouse fatalities. Fences can be difficult for greater sage-grouse to see, leading to injury and death for birds moving through or displaying in the area. Installing reflectors has been shown to reduce deadly collisions by 83%, greatly improving habitat for sage-grouse.
The collaborative efforts of diverse stakeholders made history this year. We are proud to say that the voluntary efforts of fourteen participants in the Magnificent Moose program are now a part of this success story!