Wyoming News Service, Casper, WY - Once there were more than 2 million sage grouse throughout the West. Now, best estimates show there are somewhere between 200 and 300,000 of the birds left -- mostly in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Idaho.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to announce this week if that means the bird qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Wildlife Biologist Clait Braun says it all comes down to habitat. Sage grouse feed exclusively on sagebrush and they don't successfully nest unless there are large, intact expanses of sagebrush and native grasses.
Erin Robertson at the Center for Native Ecosystems says while scientists know what sage grouse need to succeed, it will be a delicate balancing act.
Opposition to listing the bird for protection comes from those concerned about the impact on oil and gas development, and possibly ranches, although Braun says livestock and sage grouse can get along in the same areas.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will announce a decision by Friday.