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Colorado Hunters Cashing In on Sage-Grouse Protections

Hunters are reaping the benefits of the U.S. Department of the Interior's decision in September not to list the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species. Credit: Pierdelune/iStockphoto
Hunters are reaping the benefits of the U.S. Department of the Interior's decision in September not to list the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species. Credit: Pierdelune/iStockphoto
November 5, 2015

DENVER - The third combined season for deer and elk kicked off last weekend, and Colorado hunters are taking full advantage of the U.S. Interior Department's decision not to list the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species.

Kent Ingram, president of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, says the bird famous for its ritual mating dance was a catalyst for years of collaboration between federal, state and local stakeholders to protect sagebrush habitat and still allow energy production, ranching and outdoor recreation.

"The bird is really essential," says Ingram. "It's got the opportunity to bind the West together for a common cause, and we're really encouraged by what we see with this partnership out there."

A National Wildlife Federation poll conducted last year found nine out of 10 hunters said protecting sage-grouse habitat is important. The decline in sage-grouse population has largely been attributed to urban growth and oil and gas production. The Interior Department has promised to re-evaluate the status of the species in five years.

Ingram is hopeful the conservation tactics and partnerships that helped avoid the need to list the bird will continue to protect wildlife in Colorado.

He says the sage-grouse is like a canary in a coal mine; when its habitat is compromised, some 300 other species of reptiles, birds and other animals also are at risk.

Ingram notes the sage sea and the Piceance Basin in particular is critical for deer and elk numbers as they move down from higher elevations when the weather turns.

"For a wild, free-ranging deer and elk herds, the habitat that these sage grouse live in is the winter range for these big-game animals," says Ingram. "The limit of what is the carrying capacity for big game is the winter range."

In Colorado, protecting the sage-grouse is also big business. A study by the Western Values Project and Pew Charitable Trusts found sagebrush habitat is responsible for $76 million in total economic output in the state, and more than $22 million in personal income.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO