A Win for the Greater Sage-Grouse,
but More Work Remains
Posted: July 2009
On July 9, 2009 a Federal Court judge ruled that a government recovery strategy for the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse did not protect the bird's critical breeding grounds as required by Canada's Species at Risk Act. The ruling forces the federal government to identify the species' critical habitat.
The court found that the government acted unreasonably by not identifying the Greater Sage-Grouse's critical habitat in its recovery plan, despite there being adequate data to do so.
"These birds have been extremely well-studied in Canada," said Ted Cheskey of Nature Canada. "Their habitat requirements and ranges have been carefully documented, studied and described by researchers, particularly Dr. Cameron Aldridge who is the world expert on this species. All of their communal display areas – called leks – are well-known and have been monitored by naturalists for dozens of years."
The Greater Sage-Grouse, a plump, chicken-like bird, has one of the most spectacular courtships in the bird world.
The population has plummeted over 90% in the past two decades, from 5,000 to less than 500 individuals. Their range is confined to extreme south-eastern Alberta and south-central Saskatchewan.
In 2008, Nature Canada completed a scientific review of the federal government's proposed recovery strategy for the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse. This review, identifying the shortcomings in habitat designation, became the basis of a lawsuit brought against the federal government by Ecojustice, Canadian Nature Network affiliates Nature Saskatchewan and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and several other groups.
Despite this legal victory, more work remains to ensure the safety of the Greater Sage-Grouse. Much of the critical habitat is on community pasture, owned by either federal or provincial governments and threatened by potential gas wells, irrigation projects, and wind farms. Securing true protection for these lands is the next step for this endangered species.