The heated weather had caused great loss in the Great Basin desert, which has deemed the sage-grouse endangered by wildfires, but not on the list of the Endangered Species Act just yet. In fact, the report comes barely a few weeks before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service make a final decision by September 30th if the species should fall under protection.
The devastating effects of loose, unpredictable and spontaneous fires have been vividly felt by the population and the 400 species that use and live around sagebrush steppe. For the chubby-looking, ground-dwelling birds, it’s the main source of their food, only munching on sagebrush for nutrition and added strength before breeding season.
The wildfires, however, have razed the lands, and along with them, have killed many birds in their wake or engulfed by the flames. If the situation remains as it is, the reports have it that the population of sage-grouse could be cut in half in the next 30 years, based on simulations on how fast the vegetation can recover.
According to Pete Coates, from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)’s Western Ecological Center, the simulated models show how their numbers will be significantly decreasing, as “sagebrush ecosystems and sage-grouse habitat are degraded by wildfire”. Their population will see a steady and rapid 50% decline within the following three decades.
At one point, their numbers stood at a whopping 16 million, but has now fallen to between 200,000 and 500,000 across eleven Western states in the United States. Scientists consider the sage-grouse to be an excellent indicator of the sagebrush sea’s health, which has clearly been declining under the high temperatures and sparked fires.
Researchers state that their goal in saving the birds can be accomplished by lowering the number of disturbances in their habitat, along with determining the vulnerable areas affected by invading plants, such as cheatgrass, that provide more kindling to potential wildfires.
After properly assessing the domain and listing the species under the Endangered Species Act, measures and proper strategies could be placed.
However, not all are willing to see the sage-grouse placed under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wing. According to some experts, placing the birds under protection and banning the access of industries around the Great Basin desert will drastically affect the economy of the surrounding states.
If the sage-grouse is deemed as ‘endangered’, huge areas of land will be forbidden from seeing other uses, which will severely affect those who produce crude oil, coal, natural gas or beef. In fact, the estimated cost for the United States would be of $5.6 billion due to losses, so it remains to be seen how the votes will decide on September 30th, when the specie’s fate will be decided.
Image source: flickr.com