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Spring Brings Sage-Grouse Mating Dance Fans to Colorado

PHOTO: Spring has sprung, which means greater sage-grouse males are strutting their stuff, and females are checking out the goods. Fans are gathering near Craig, Colo., to support protections for sage-grouse habitat. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.
PHOTO: Spring has sprung, which means greater sage-grouse males are strutting their stuff, and females are checking out the goods. Fans are gathering near Craig, Colo., to support protections for sage-grouse habitat. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.
March 26, 2015

DENVER – Spring is in the air, and fans of the greater sage-grouse are hosting a tour this weekend near Craig, Colo., hoping to catch the bird's famous mating dance.

It's part of an effort to draw attention to the protection of sage-grouse habitat. The oil and gas industry is pushing back against the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) plans, but Mark Salvo, director of federal lands conservation for Defenders of Wildlife, says there's room for endangered species and industry on public lands if managed the right way.

"You can have responsible land use and development, and conserve species like greater sage-grouse," says Salvo. "You can have oil and gas development on the landscape, but they need to be sited and managed more carefully than they have been in the past."

Defenders of Wildlife has evaluated each of the 15 draft plans in the BLM's Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy. Salvo says if the agency doesn't change course, the BLM could miss an opportunity to create a management system that avoids conflicts between resource use and conservation values on public lands.

Sage-grouse males are renowned for their dramatic, strutting displays. Feathers stand on end to make them look bigger, their heads jut out, and their neck sacs swell. The males assemble to strut their stuff, and the females check out the goods.

Salvo, who is leading the tour, says there's still time to catch the springtime ritual: "The sage grouse are well into their breeding season, but the males will continue dancing, likely for the next three or four weeks."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would consider listing the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act in 2015. This pending deadline prompted the BLM to update land-use plans to conserve sage-grouse habitat, potentially avoiding the need to list the species.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO