Audubon Photography Awards feature Pinedale photographer

Greater Sage Grouse males fighting for dominance on a lek in Sublette County, Wyoming, covered with snow. These birds are always trying for a better spot on the lek in hopes that they are able to breed with the females. Photo by Elizabeth Boehm. Courtesy National Audubon Society.

Published Aug. 11, 2019 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle as “Audubon Photography Awards feature Pinedale photographer”

By Barb Gorges

            Last month, a familiar name appeared on my screen, “Elizabeth Boehm.”

            I was reading an email from the National Audubon Society listing the winners of the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards.

            I have never met Elizabeth in person. But she was one of the people who replied when I put out a request on the Wyobirds e-list for photos of the few bird species we didn’t have for photographer Pete Arnold’s and my book published last year, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month.” She generously shared six images.

            With my similar request on Wyobirds back in 2008 for “Birds by the Week” for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Pete supplied most of the 104 photos (the others were stock), and he contributed 93 for the book. Here’s the small world connection: Pete is Elizabeth’s neighbor whenever he and his wife visit his wife’s childhood home in Pinedale.

            Now here is the big world connection: Elizabeth won the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards in the professional category. To qualify as a professional, you must make a certain amount of money from photography the previous year.

            A week later, Audubon magazine arrived and there, printed over a two-page spread, like the grand prize winner, was Elizabeth’s winning photo: two male sage-grouse fighting on an entirely white background of snow.

            I decided it was time to get to know Elizabeth better and interviewed her by phone about her prize-winning photography. Elizabeth won the Wyoming Wildlife magazine grand prize a couple years ago and one year she was in the top 10 for the North American Nature Photography Association. Her photos have been published in Audubon magazine. “I was totally surprised,” she said of her latest win.

            More than 8,000 images were submitted by 2,253 U.S. and Canadian photographers. Categories included professional, amateur, youth (13-17 years old), Plants for Birds (bird and a plant native to the area photographed together) and the Fisher Prize (for originality and technical expertise).

            Elizabeth started shooting landscapes and wildflowers 25 years ago, then started selling images 10 years later, adding wildlife to her subjects. Now she works her day job only two days a week.

            Of her winning image she said, “I usually go out in the spring. I know the local leks. I like snow to clean up the background. The hard part of photographing fights is they are spontaneous. It’s kind of a fast, quick thing.”

The males fight in the pre-dawn light for the right to be the one that mates with all the willing females. “I set up the night before or in the middle of the night. It’s better waiting and being patient,” she said.

Elizabeth visits leks one or two times a week March through April. This past spring was too wet for driving the back roads. Even the grouse weren’t on the leks until late. They don’t like snow because there is nowhere to hide from the eagles that prey on them.

            This winning photo is from three or four years ago. Elizabeth came across it while searching her files for another project and realized it could be special with a little work.

Audubon allows nothing other than cropping and a few kinds of lighting and color adjustments. At one point, Audubon requested Elizabeth’s untouched RAW image. See the 2019 rules, and 2019’s winning photos, at https://www.audubon.org/photoawards-entry. Her camera is a Canon EOS 6D with a Canon 500 mm EF f/4L IS USM lens. The photo was taken at 1/1500 second at f/5.6, ISO 800.

            In September, National Audubon will finalize the schedule for the traveling exhibit of APA winners.

            Elizabeth sells prints at the Art of the Winds, a 10-artist gallery on Pinedale’s Main Street. You can also purchase images directly from her at http://elizabethboehm.com. She offers guided local birding tours and is also the organizer for the local Christmas Bird Count.

Photographers are a dime a dozen in the Yellowstone – Grand Teton neighborhood where Elizabeth shoots. She works hard to have her work stand out. She also donates her work to conservation causes like Pete’s and my book which is meant to get more people excited about local birds and birdwatching.

            Look on the copyright page of “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” for the list of Elizabeth’s contributions. You can find the book online through the University of Wyoming bookstore, the Wyoming Game and Fish store and Amazon, etc.

In Cheyenne it’s at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Cheyenne Depot Museum, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Riverbend Nursery, Cheyenne Pet Clinic, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s Pink Boutique, Barnes and Noble, PBR Printing and out at Curt Gowdy State Park.

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Sage grouse captive breeding success doubtful

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Greater Sage-grouse. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 10, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Critics of sage grouse captive breeding doubt it will succeed.”

Note: The American Ornithological Society’s spelling is “Greater Sage-Grouse.”  The Associated Press style when the full name is not used is “sage grouse.”

By Barb Gorges

Over the eons, the greater sage-grouse figured out how to prosper in the sagebrush.

It’s not an easy life. Some years are too wet and the chicks die. Others are too dry with few leaves, buds, flowers or insects and the chicks starve. Some years there are too many hungry coyotes, badgers and ravens.

Every spring the sage grouse go to the meet-up at the lek, the sage grouse version of a bar [To find where to see sage grouse in Wyoming go to https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Habitat/Sage grouse-Management/Sage grouse-Lek-Viewing-Guide]. The males puff out their chests vying for the right to take the most females, then love them and leave them to raise the chicks on their own.

Experienced hens look for the best cover for their nests. They teach the young how to find food and avoid predators. In fall, every sage grouse migrates to winter habitat, 4-18 miles away.

In the past hundred years, obstacles were thrown in the path of sage grouse, including in their Wyoming stronghold where sagebrush habitat can be found across the whole state except in the southeast and northwest corners.

The low-flying birds collide with fences, vehicles, utility lines. The noise from oil and gas operations pushes them away. Sagebrush disappears with development.

Each state is responsible for all wildlife within its borders. But if a species heads for extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service steps in. Since 1985, the sage grouse population declined 30 percent across the West. It looked like the species might be listed as either threatened or endangered, curtailing oil and gas drilling and other development.

Last month I explained how Wyoming conservationists, sportsmen, the oil and gas industry, agricultural interests and state and local government collaborated on a state plan to conserve sage grouse. However, the current federal administration wants all the state plans to be examined to see if sage grouse habitat can be more densely developed.

Wyoming’s collaborators strongly disagree with the attempt. Public comments were solicited by the Bureau of Land Management through the end of November and the Forest Service is taking comments through January 5 [https://www.federalregister.gov. In the search area type: Ask Forest Service to Amend Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan.].

Meanwhile, a Wyoming man is hoping to change the dynamics of the sage grouse issue by increasing their population through captive breeding.

Diemer True, of the True Companies (oil and gas drilling, support, pipelines, and seven ranches), and former president of the Wyoming Senate, bought Karl Baer’s game bird farm in Powell.

True convinced the Wyoming Legislature to pass legislation during the 2017 session to allow him and Baer to apply for a permit allowing them to take up to 250 sage grouse eggs from the wild per year and experiment for five years with captive breeding. The idea is that birds can be released, bring up the numbers and maybe allow higher density of development in protected areas.

But no one has been very successful captive breeding sage grouse. No one has successfully released them to procreate in the wild and, if True is successful, he wants his techniques to be proprietary—he won’t share them. He wants to profit from wildlife rather than take the more typical route of supporting academic research.

Gov. Matt Mead signed the captive breeding legislation into law this fall. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission wrote very specific regulations about it, which you can read at https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Regulations/Regulation-PDFs/REGULATIONS_CH60.

Five permits are allowed, for a total withdrawal of 1,250 eggs per year, but it is doubtful that anyone besides True and Baer will qualify. Consensus among wildlife biologists I spoke to is that True will have trouble finding 250 wild eggs for his permit.

The facility requirements mean True is building new pens separated from the bird farm’s other operations. Despite these best management practices, there’s still a chance captive-bred birds could infect wild birds when they are released.

[The Wyoming Game and Fish Department monitors sage grouse leks every spring to see how successful the previous year’s breeding was. Numbers naturally vary widely year to year. The effects of captive breeding on these surveys will be included when setting hunting limits.]

No one who knows sage grouse well believes they can be bred in captivity successfully. Young sage grouse learn about survival from their mothers. By contrast, the non-native pheasant captive-bred here is acknowledged to be a “put-and-take” hunting target. It hardly ever survives to breed on its own.

We can only hope that this sage grouse experiment will go well. If captive-bred chicks don’t thrive in the wild, there will be some well-fed coyotes, badgers and ravens.

Sage-grouse need your comments by Nov. 27

 

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Greater Sage-Grouse, photo by Dave Showalter.

 

Published Nov. 12, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Wyoming’s Greater Sage-Grouse conservation plan is in jeopardy”

The deadline is Nov. 27, 2017, for sending your comments to BLM regarding whether you think amending the Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan is necessary. See instructions at the end of this column.

By Barb Gorges

Wyoming successfully addressed the sage-grouse issue through a collaboration of state and local government, sportsmen, conservationists, the oil and gas industry, and agricultural interests.

Over six years, the state was able to draw up a plan to establish protected core areas of habitat. Good habitat is the best protection for this species, which has declined 30 percent across the west since 1985.

The plan leaves a large majority of Wyoming open to oil and gas and other development.

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said state plans across the west were good enough that it wouldn’t start proceedings to list the sage-grouse as threatened or endangered.

Here in Wyoming, the Sage-Grouse Implementation Team, headed by Bob Budd, is working hard. The team represents all the previous collaborators.

However, the new federal administration is intent on dismantling anything that happened under the previous president. It tasked new U.S. Department of Interior secretary Ryan Zinke with reviewing all state sage-grouse plans to either toss them or amend them.

None of the collaborators on Wyoming’s plan are happy with this—including the oil and gas people who desire certainty for their business plans. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is not happy either.

I went to the Bureau of Land Management’s public meeting Nov. 6 in Cheyenne to find out more about the proposed amendments to Wyoming’s plan.

I heard these criticisms:

–Switching to using sage-grouse population numbers to determine an oil and gas producer’s ability to drill and plan for mitigation (more sage-grouse, more leniency) would leave companies with a lot of unwanted uncertainty. Sage-grouse numbers vary enormously from year to year due to weather and other natural effects.

–Basing conservation plans on sage-grouse population numbers rather than habitat would discount the 350-plus other species that depend on the sagebrush ecosystem, including 22 “species of conservation concern.”

–Messing around with the plan could cause U.S. Fish and Wildlife to decide the sage-grouse warrants listing after all. That would close much more land to oil and gas drilling, as well as coal mining and other mineral extraction.

–The current Republican administration thinks states should have more say in issues like this, and the six years of collaboration Wyoming went through is a perfect example of how it can happen. Ironically, it’s the Republicans in Washington who now decree they know what is best for us.

–Wyoming’s conservation plan has been in effect for only two years—not enough time to gauge success. Instituting major changes now would cost a lot of taxpayer money that could be better spent in the field.

BLM invites us to comment during their scoping process. They want to know if we think they should amend the management plans that were developed by the states to protect sage-grouse.

They don’t make it easy, says my husband, a retired BLM wildlife biologist.

Go to http://bit.ly/GRSGplanning (case-sensitive). Click on “Documents and Reports.” This will give you a list of documents. Only “GRSG Notice of Intent” is available for commenting. “GRSG” is ornithological shorthand using initial letters of the parts of the bird’s common name.

After you read the document, click on “Comment on Document.” You’ll have to fill in the title of the document you are commenting on: “GRSG Notice of Intent.” And then you have 60 minutes to finish the procedure or everything you’ve written disappears. You may want to compose your comments elsewhere and then paste them in.

The deadline for comments is either Nov. 27 or Nov. 30—there’s a discrepancy in BLM’s handouts from the public meeting. Go with the earlier date if you can.

To educate yourself before commenting, you can visit the Wyoming State BLM office in Cheyenne, 5353 Yellowstone Road, or contact Erica Husse, 307-775-6318, ehusse@blm.gov, or Emmet Pruss, 307-775-6266, epruss@blm.gov.

But if you are most interested in what is best for sage-grouse, it may be easier to jump to the analysis provided by conservation groups like the National Audubon Society, www.audubon.org/sage-grouse. The former Audubon Wyoming executive director Brian Rutledge was instrumental in the Wyoming collaboration and is still involved as NAS’s director of the Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative.

Two other interested groups are Wyoming Wildlife Federation, http://wyomingwildlife.org/, and the Wyoming Outdoor Council, https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/.

All three organizations offer simple digital form letters that can be personalized, and they will send them to BLM. However, BLM says it gives more credence to comments sent via their own online form.

I hope you can take a few minutes to put in a good word for the bird that maybe should be our state mascot.

Next month I’ll look at what the Wyoming State Legislature did last session that may also negatively affect sage-grouse.

Virginia is for bird lovers

Shenandoah NP

How many warblers were hiding out in Shenandoah National Park in mid-October? Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 1, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Virginia is for bird lovers, but also makes Wyoming birder think about home”

By Barb Gorges

The greater sage-grouse could be the expected topic for this column, another in the flurry of opinions published since September about its non-listing as an endangered species.

We should be happy it wasn’t listed. A lot of hard work went into compromises and new concepts in cooperation, worked out between industry, government agencies and environmental organizations.

But there are biologists afraid the compromises are not enough to keep sage-grouse populations from continuing to fall. There will be more legal battles ahead, from both industry and environmental groups.

What I really wanted to talk about was exploring the birds of Virginia in mid-October. Our older son and his wife moved there last winter and Mark and I birded with them recently, attending the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival.

Birding back east is often about birding by ear, especially with leaves still on the trees. I soon learned to appreciate the Carolina chickadee’s call—just like our mountain chickadee’s—but as if it had drunk too much coffee.

Small birds in autumn don’t sing much and their call notes are hard to distinguish. Who knows how many warblers we missed? Identifying them visually is difficult because they have molted out of their more identifiable spring plumage. Maybe that’s why I liked the black-throated blue warblers we saw—males have solid blue backs, white bellies, and black faces and throats year round. But, oh the “warbler-neck” pain from looking up into extremely tall trees of the deciduous forest.

Our daughter-in-law was hired this last summer to help The Nature Conservancy with bird surveys in the Allegheny Highlands in western Virginia, to see if the fire management plan for the rare montane pine barrens will give songbirds like the golden-winged warbler what they need.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the golden-winged as “near threatened.” It has declined in population 76 percent since 1966, and 95 percent in its historic range in Appalachia for a variety of reasons, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We didn’t get up to TNC’s Warm Springs Mountain Preserve to see this warbler this time, but Mark and I did accumulate a nice list of birds in our numerous walks. To name a few, we walked about the grounds of Monticello, on a bit of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, through woods and meadows at the U.S. National Arboretum; across the swamp at Historic Jamestowne, and in the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

My favorite birds (maybe because they were easy to see) were the gulls on one of the islands along the 20-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which is a combination of bridges and tunnels. Where one of the bridges ends and one of the tunnels begins on a manmade island, there is a scenic view pullout. Gulls paraded around, posing for cameras and expecting tips—food scraps.

I liked the view of open water. It’s like home, where so much is out in the open, though much also goes on below the surface.

I thought about the difference between saving sage-grouse and saving golden-winged warblers.

I thought about how easy it is to count football-sized sage-grouse compared to surveying for 5-inch birds that play hide and seek in leaves that are bigger than they are.

I thought about our large tracts of public and private land in Wyoming that seem to be endless and changeless, compared to the eastern forest constantly under attack by invading plants and subdivisions. Use Google Earth to trace the path of our flight from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, and trace the endless curlicues of brand new roads. It would be difficult to insert fire as a management tool outside of a remote, unfragmented place like the Allegheny Highlands.

Acres in Wyoming are not untrammeled. As a range management student at the University of Wyoming 35 years ago, I learned that sagebrush needed to be eradicated to increase cattle productivity. Land managers, especially in the livestock industry, took action.

And now we see the error: that for a few more pounds of beef we may have jeopardized not only the sagebrush, but the sage-grouse and the whole sagebrush community, above and below the soil surface.

In turn, that could jeopardize future kinds of agricultural and wildlife productivity (such as hunting) which we put dollar values on. Energy developers, whether mineral or alternative, despite reclamation and mitigation claims, have the same problem.

I think we are on the right track though, segregating incompatible land uses, just as we zone areas of a city. It’s a matter of figuring out, before it’s too late, how to have our sage-grouse, and energy too.

Gee, it’s great to be home.

Ring-billed gulls

Ring-billed Gulls visit on top of a barrier on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – Tunnel in mid-October. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Grouse losing ground fast

Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse are repulsed by the noise of oil and gas drilling. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Nov. 8, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Grouse losing ground fast.”

2014 Update: Type “sage-grouse” in the search box to find more recent columns.

By Barb Gorges

Sage grouse have the misfortune of living directly in the path of natural gas development. In Wyoming, we are talking about the bird known by the formal common name, “Greater Sage-Grouse.”

While some species benefit from human activity—think Norway rat, pigeon, starling, coyote, cockroach—the sage grouse is not one of them.

Matt Holloran was guest speaker at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meeting last month and talked about his studies on the natural gas fields near Pinedale as a University of Wyoming doctoral candidate and now as a consultant with Wyoming Wildlife Consultants.

While much of his talk was still couched in the language used to successfully defend his dissertation, accompanied by graphs and charts, Matt’s findings are clear enough. No sage grouse, much less anyone else, wants to live next to a drill rig or producing gas well, whatever the season.

First, there are, the dancing grounds, or leks, where males perform on spring mornings and females come to observe and decide on a mate. Leks have to be open areas with good visibility, but a little thing like a flyover by a predator like a golden eagle is enough to cancel the show for the rest of the morning.

Matt calculated the success of each lek by the number of males that continued to attend.

During five years of study, it was obvious that the negative effect of drill rigs and producing wells on grouse increased the closer they were to a lek. It also increased the closer the wells were positioned together. Matt even determined leks downwind from a rig were affected more negatively than leks upwind. Noise was the factor.

Also, the closer a road was to a lek and the busier it was, the greater the negative effect. One has to travel more than 5 kilometers away from drilling or wells before leks appear to be unaffected.

Mated female grouse leave the lek to find perfect nesting habitat. They like to lay their eggs under sagebrush where tall grasses also help screen them from predators. They react poorly to drilling, and fewer chicks survive.

Later, when females from disturbed areas share summer habitat with females from undisturbed areas, the former are more likely to die. One of the reasons may be that, having learned to ignore human activity, they are no longer paying close attention to predator activity.

When leks lose male sage grouse, do individuals leave a disturbed area and move to a new area or do they just stop reproducing the next generation?

There aren’t a lot of places for sage grouse to go.

As a range management student 25 years ago, I learned all the techniques for killing sagebrush to encourage more grass for cattle to graze. Fire is especially effective, retarding sagebrush growth for over 200 years in some cases. Sheep, however, are browsers, and since they nibble shrubs, sagebrush isn’t managed the same way for them.

It would be great if we could provide habitat for sage grouse somewhere away from the gas fields. Energy companies are used to thinking in terms of mitigation.

But no one knows yet exactly how to build successful habitat for sage grouse, nor does anyone know exactly how other factors, such as West Nile Virus, predators and drought work together to affect numbers of grouse. Their populations have been declining since the 1960s.

Matt said when peregrine falcon numbers were dropping, all it took was a ban on DDT and the population rebounded. In comparison, sage grouse are a puzzle.

He does, however, have several suggestions. One is to increase the distance between gas field activity and leks and nests, as stipulated by the Bureau of Land Management based on his findings.

Keeping well density to less than one per 699 acres (a little over a square mile) can be done with directional drilling. Multiple wells could share the same site and access road, pumping gas from pockets up to a mile away in all directions, leaving more land surface to sage grouse.

Something as simple as garbage control on the well sites would quit attracting ravens to the area. They eat sage grouse eggs.

Another key to sage grouse survival Matt recommends is that “intact sagebrush-dominated habitats be protected and managed for suitable understory conditions.”

If you would like to read any of the 223 pages of Matt’s dissertation, “Greater Sage-Grouse Population Response to Natural Gas Field Development in Western Wyoming,” email him at matth@wyowildlife.com and ask for the PDF version. It also includes a summary of other relevant sage grouse studies.

Natural gas is not a renewable resource. I don’t understand the federal government encouraging drilling everything as fast as possible. The resource will just run out faster.

Slower development would give an area of exhausted wells a chance to be reclaimed for sage grouse before new areas are disturbed. And sage grouse are not the only ones to suffer from high speed development. Consider our small western Wyoming towns.

Procrastination is a hallmark of being human, so pessimist (or realist) that I am, I don’t think alternative energy will be given the brain power it needs to find the most inspired solutions until it is absolutely necessary.

Let’s hope it’s not too late for the Greater Sage-Grouse by then.

 

Grouse geology: find grouse, find oil

Greater Sage-Grouse

The Greater Sage-Grouse lives in sagebrush, which almost always grows atop Wyoming’s best oil and gas drilling prospects. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published April 2, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “How to get energy and save our sage grouse: Difficult task lies ahead to keep both resources valuable in Cowboy State.”

2014 Update: Accommodating sage-grouse continues to be a work in progress. The Audubon Wyoming office has now been rolled into the Audubon Rockies regional office in Fort Collins, Colo., http://rockies.audubon.org/.

By Barb Gorges

Is geology destiny? Geology is rocks. A particular weathered rock makes a particular kind of soil which, with water, grows particylar vegetation. Particular vegetation feeds and shelters particular animals.

Thus, a geologic formation rich in oil and gas can be associated with certain wildlife species.

Using overlays last month at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meeting, Alison Lyon-Holloran, conservation program manager for Audubon Wyoming, showed Wyoming’s oil, gas and coalbed methane fields almost perfectly align with greater sage-grouse habitat.

The sagebrush ecosystem, on which the grouse is entirely dependent, stretches across Wyoming in a wide swath from the northeast to the southwest, avoiding the mountains in the northwest and the grasslands of the southeast.

If you have not driven across the state, it may be hard to believe that so many acres of sagebrush exist, from the ankle-high species on the dry hills to the small forests along riparian (stream) corridors.

It’s hard to believe sage-grouse are so dependent on sage, from hiding their nests in a straggly old stand to grazing on the buds while keeping an eye out for predatory golden eagles.

It’s hard to believe a chicken-like 6-pound male or 3-pound female is so shy and easily distracted that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s drilling stipulations provide, on average, a 2-mile buffer zone around a lek during breeding season.

Those leks are collections of as many as 50-150 males, each spreading spikey tail feathers, popping white-feathered neck sacs and defending small territories. The females stroll through, looking for the best genetic material which, Alison said, may be the same one or two males for all of them.

Someone in the audience asked how sage-grouse are doing. Fine, Alison said, away from the energy development areas. Two wet years have really made a difference in what was a general decline during drought years. However, despite the moisture, they are not doing well in energy areas. It’s too crowded and noisy.

Several energy companies have committed millions of dollars to provide offsite mitigation for wildlife and other land users who have lost the use of lands now in oil and gas production.

It would be nice to think that people could enhance sagebrush habitat away from all the wells, but Alison, who studied sage-grouse for her master’s thesis and has been immersed in the research and issues for the last 10 years, said there are no studies showing how to produce scraggly 100-year old sagebrush stands.

The millions of dollars in mitigation money cannot be used to study why some sagebrush is not attractive to sage-grouse and what can be done to improve it.

It is conceivable, said Alison, that the few remaining healthy sage-grouse leks in Wyoming could be compromised, forcing the birds to be listed as either threatened or endangered—something neither energy companies nor environmentalists want to see happen.

If sage-grouse become threatened or endangered, it would mean more development restrictions for energy companies and much more work for the environmental community.

Of Wyoming’s total 62 million acres, the federal government owns, and BLM manages, 41 million acres of minerals below the surface (and 18 million acres of the surface).

So far, 14 million acres of federal minerals have been leased for oil and gas. Don’t forget state and private oil and gas leasing because 45 percent of Wyoming’s total oil and 37 percent of its natural gas production comes from them. See BLM’s 2007 annual report at www.blm.gov/wy.

In the old days, environmental groups would be preparing lawsuits. Instead, Alison and Audubon Wyoming executive director Brian Rutledge came up with the Greater Sage-grouse Species Survival Plan. They have hired Kevin Doherty, who studied sage-grouse for his PhD, to give the issue the necessary rigorous, scientific statistical scrutiny.

The National Audubon Society has taken notice also, and has made sagebrush one of its top conservation concerns.

Key players from federal and state government have been working with energy and environmental groups to figure out how, in the melee of fluid mineral development, we can have our energy and our grouse, too, here in the state with the most grouse habitat of any in the country. And there are other sagebrush species that will benefit.

The highlight of Alison’s presentation was the Steve Chindgren film, “It’s Just Sagebrush,” a half hour un-narrated look at wildlife in the sage over a year’s time. It was filmed mostly between Farson and Pinedale.

If you haven’t yet traveled a two-track, sagebrush tickling the belly of your pickup, pungent sage smell (not the garden variety) wafting through your open window along with a fine wind of dust as you bump over badger holes and glimpse heavy-bodied sage-grouse taking flight, lumbering like World War II bombers, you should see the film.

And then you’ll be interested in Alison and Brian’s plans to begin an e-list to keep you up to date on this issue, letting you know how and when you can be an effective voice for the well-being of an ecosystem.

Contact Alison at aholloran@audubon.org.

So, is geology destiny? Yes, I think so. While geology (and climate) makes some states suitable for farming, geology has made Wyoming rich in fossil fuels and sagebrush. We just have to choose how to keep both resources valuable.