Last-ditch bid to save greater sage-grouse from extinction

The Canadian government issued an unprecedented emergency protection order to save the greater sage-grouse, which is teetering on the edge of extinction. But the federal attempt to protect about 1,700-square kilometres of crucial habitat in Alberta and Saskatchewan may be too little, too late to save the iconic prairie bird.

“At present, the geographic size of the protected areas under emergency order may not be enough to stop the extirpation of the greater sage-grouse,” Stephen Hazell, senior conservationist at Nature Canada said in a statement.

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the move to protect the endangered species under the Species at Risk Act will come into force Feb. 18, 2014. It will put a stop to oil and gas development – pegged at a loss of $10-million in revenue over 10 years – on provincial and federal land, but it does not apply to private land. It also doesn’t end grazing on government property. What’s more, it relies on voluntary measures to be undertaken to save the species know for its elaborate mating dance. 

“Our goal with this emergency order is to achieve the best protection for the sage-grouse while minimizing impacts on landowners and agricultural producers,” Aglukkaq said in a statement.

But the federal government acted only after several conservation groups went to court to force Ottawa to act. Sage-grouse habitat in Canada has shrunk to 6,000 square kilometres, or 6 per cent of its historic range.

Ottawa pegged the number of adult birds left in Canada at between 93 and 138 in 2012, the minister said in her statement. 

Even with reintroduction measures, those figures may be overly optimistic. In 2011, just 13 males were spotted in southeastern Alberta, marking a nearly 98-per-cent decline from 613 in 1968, when the provincial government started keeping track of the species. Experts suggested there are at best 40 sage-grouse left in Alberta, while a small remnant population hangs on in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.

Photo U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

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