Legal Action to Protect Sage-Grouse Habitat

More species at risk news this week, as a coalition of environmental groups represented by Ecojustice is in court to force the government to protect critical habitat for the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse. The lawsuit alleges the federal Minister of Environment failed to comply with Canada’s Species at Risk Act which requires the Sage-Grouse’s critical habitat to be identified in its recovery strategy, so it can be protected.

The argument that the government failed in its duty to identify critical habitat in the recovery strategy is particularly compelling given that Greater Sage-Grouse is a very well known species, with much of its critical habitat for nesting and brood-rearing already identified in independent scientific studies.

Nature Canada is not one of the organizations represented on the case, but we’re a supporting player. We commented on the proposed recovery strategy, telling the government that the information existed to allow them to identify critical habitat for the species. And our conservation ecologist, Ted Cheskey, provided an affidavit about this for the court case. Ted also supplied us with the following conservation information about Sage-Grouse:

Greater Sage-Grouse is the largest member of the Grouse family, and lives exclusively in sagebrush habitat in the central western United States and arid parts of south-western Canada. Historically the population in Canada included populations in the Okanagan in British Columbia, south-eastern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. Currently the population is limited to a small area of south-eastern Alberta and south-western and south-central Saskatchewan. Its Canadian range has shrunk from about 100,000 km2 to 6,000 km2 or six percent of the historical range. Similar declines have occurred in the United States populations. The total Canadian population has plummeted about 90% over two decades from roughly 5000 individuals to approximately 500.

Greater Sage-Grouse is very sensitive to habitat fragmentation and disturbance. In Canada, much of its remaining population outside of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan is in community pasture that is either Federal Crown land in Saskatchewan, or Alberta Crown land in Alberta. The installation of well heads for gas or oil exploration or extraction, wind turbines, irrigation projects and intensified grazing all are linked to its decline. With each passing day, the potential for more applications for gas wells or wind turbines in Sage-Grouse habitat increases. Unfortunately, there is a correlation between the sagebrush habitat upon which Sage-Grouse depends, and gas deposits.These facts underlie the urgency to identify critical habitat immediately, and protect it.

You can read about the court case being heard this week here and here.