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Last chance for Sage-grouse in Canada

25/11/2011 09:57:59
birds/2011/sage_grouse_usfws

One of the most interesting aspects of the greater sage-grouse is its nearly complete reliance on sagebrush. These birds cannot survive in areas where sagebrush does not exist. Photo credit USFWS

Call for Canadian Government to protect Sage Grouse

November 2011. An international coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday called on Canada's federal environment minister to take the endangered Greater sage-grouse under his wing with an emergency protection order.

Environmental law group Ecojustice submitted a legal petition today on behalf of 12 groups, including Canadian BirdLife partner Nature Canada, demanding that Environment Minister Peter Kent use a provision in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) to protect Canada's few remaining sage-grouse, found only in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"Without emergency protection for their grassland habitat, sage-grouse are expected to disappear from Alberta within two years and from Saskatchewan within ten years," said Carla Sbert, Nature Canada's manager of conservation programs. "This is still avoidable, but action must be swift."

Just 55 males left in Canada
The iconic bird, known for its elaborate courtship dance, saw almost 90 per cent of its Canadian population die off between 1988 and 2006. As few as 13 male birds currently remain in Alberta and at last count, as few as 42 males were left in Saskatchewan.

The petition calls for Minister Kent to recommend an emergency order to protect the sage-grouse and stop further human disturbance of the habitat these birds need to survive. Recent scientific research suggests that rapid encroachment of oil and gas development on the areas where sage-grouse spend the winter, breed, nest and raise their young is the leading factor in their extreme population drop.

Alberta and Saskatchewan each have a Wildlife Act and voluntary guidelines for energy development near sage-grouse habitat, but provincial protections are so lax that sage-grouse continue to decline. In addition to seeking federal protection for sage-grouse under SARA, the environmental groups are calling on the oil and gas industry to voluntarily provide sage-grouse with the protection they need.

"We have strong science telling us how and where oil and gas development must be regulated if sage-grouse are to survive in Canada, but the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the oil and gas industry are refusing to act on it," said Dr. Mark Boyce, sage-grouse expert and professor at the University of Alberta. "Unless they change course immediately, sage-grouse will become the first species extirpated because of the oil and gas industry."

Members of the public are encouraged to send letters of support for immediate, emergency action to prevent the extinction of the Greater sage-grouse in Canada. An online letter can be sent on Nature Canada's web site.

In addition to Nature Canada, signatories to the petition include Alberta Wilderness Association, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the David Suzuki Foundation, Lethbridge Naturalists Society, Nature Alberta, Nature Saskatchewan, National Audubon Society - Rockies, Sierra Club of Canada - Prairie Chapter, the Society of Grasslands Naturalists, WildEarth Guardians and the Wilderness Committee.

Sage Grouse

Sage grouse are more common in the USA. They are notable for their elaborate courtship rituals. Each spring males congregate in leks and perform a "strutting display". Groups of females observe these displays and select the most attractive males to mate with. The dominate male located in the center of the lek typically copulates with around 80% of the females on the lek. Males perform in leks for several hours in the early morning and evening during the spring months. Lek generally occur in open areas adjacent to dense sagebrush stands, and the same lekking ground may be used by grouse for decades. 

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