Sage-grouse 1.5 – How Much Space Does A Sage-grouse Need?
“The Sage Grouse” as a commentator has been granted a certain license to offer independent analyses which might irritate enviros, industry, politicos, ranchers, governors, conservatives and progressives, maybe even all of them at the same time. One can offer opinions and recommendations which are not always larded with boring and oppressive recitations of facts.
But there is this other issue out there: the Greater sage-grouse. Centrocercus urophasianus. Given the political weightiness of regulatory decisions regarding this species (e.g., listing under the Endangered Species Act) and scientific debates about stressors for this species, and the tremendous economic significance for oil and gas and agriculture, one offering opinions about this quiet denizen of the sagebrush prairies needs to be careful; these opinions better be defensible.
There is a tall order. I don’t think that I can please my Audubon Christmas bird-count coordinator, my National Wildlife Federation biologist buddy, my Wilderness Society fishing buddy, my friends at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, staffers for Governor Freudenthal and a few regulatory consultants all at the same time.
Several years ago the biologists were recommending a buffer zone around leks of one-half mile to two miles. Studies have proven that hens sometimes fly up to four miles from leks to seek quality nesting sites. The enviro response to this data is to demand a four mile buffer zone around each lek. The BLM is now considering much larger buffer zones. But, the farther those hens fly, the more widely dispersed they are. If a lek is attended by 20, or 30, or 50 hens, and they disperse over a huge area, the probability of some random four-wheeler, cow, rancher or oil field employee actually encountering this hen gets lower and lower with the expansion of the circle.
A four mile radius circle encompasses 50 square miles. If there are fifty hens nesting in that area, that is one nest per square mile. That leaves a lot of room for that hen to avoid whatever is going on in that 640 acres, unless all of the 640 acres have been grazed down to nubbins.