Sage Grouse Introduction
In Alberta, the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) was first designated an At Risk species in 1996 (downgraded to Endangered in 2000), and was federally listed as Endangered in 1998. And yet nothing has been done to slow the destruction of sage-grouse habitat, and the species' relentless slide towards extinction in Alberta."This will be the first case where the oil and gas industry has caused the extirpation of a species from Alberta," according to University of Alberta scientist Mark Boyce. The sage-grouse is the largest of all North American grouse, and is perhaps most well known for their spectacular courtship displays on dancing grounds (leks) each spring. Sage-grouse habitat consists primarily of silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana) flats that exist only within areas of the Dry Mixedgrass Subregion of the Grasslands Natural Region. In Alberta, sage-grouse can now be found only in the extreme southeast corner of the province, known as the “Manyberries area.” This area lies within the Milk River- Sage Creek, and Pakowki Lake areas of concern, as depicted on our Wild Alberta map.
There has been a significant loss (>90%) of greater sage-grouse silver sagebrush habitat in southeastern Alberta. By 1968, the sage grouse sagebrush habitat had decreased to only 4000 km2. The greater sage-grouse population declined drastically over the past several decades. According to COSEWIC, between 1988 and 2006 the total Canadian sage-grouse population declined by 88%. As of the spring of 2012, there were only 13 males dancing at leks and the total population of greater sage-grouse in Alberta was estimated at maybe 40 birds.The Alberta government has monitored this precipitous decline, while doing nothing to protect sage-grouse habitat.
Greater sage-grouse need large blocks of unfragmented prairie wildland to thrive. A draft Canadian recovery strategy failed to identify critical habitat, despite there being sufficient scientific data to do so. In 2009, AWA and other environmental organizations won a successful court case to compel the federal minister to recognize critical habitat for sage-grouse. But protection of this habitat still seems a long way away. We continue to advocate for the protection of both the Milk River-Sage Creek, and Pakowki Lake areas of south-eastern Alberta, including the "Manyberries area," around which the remaining sage-grouse active leks can be found. This is one of the largest, least fragmented and most diverse ecosystems on the northern glaciated plains of North America. It is home to many species at risk, including greater sage-grouse.
In September 2011, AWA hosted the Emergency Sage-Grouse Summit, and was signatory to an emergency communique calling for immediate action to protect sage-grouse habitat.
On November 23, 2011, Ecojustice submitted a legal petition to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent on behalf of AWA and 11 other national and international environmental groups. The petition called for Minister Kent to issue an emergency protection order for the sage-grouse and to stop further human disturbance of the habitat upon which the species survival depends. To date, we have received no response from Minister Kent, nor any federal ministry. We have been left with no choice than to turn to the Federal Court to compel Minister Kent to act.
- Alberta - Endangered (2000)
- Saskatchewan - Threatened (1987), Endangered (1999)
- British Columbia - Extirpated
- Canada (COSEWIC) - Threatened (1997), Endangered (Prairie Population) (1998)
- USA - Classed as extirpated in Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Oklahoma, Threatened in many other states
AWA is grateful that our work on the greater sage-grouse is supported by the Calgary Foundation, the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation and CEPA, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.