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The New York Times’ Diane Cardwell and Clifford Krauss recently published a piece on the interaction between the Greater Sage Grouse (GSG, Centrocercus urophasianus) and fracking in Big Sky country. We thought it might be helpful to dig a little deeper into the issue given the sensitivity of this species’ as well as the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) to habitat disturbance and the inevitable conflict between “energy independence” and the Endangered Species Act—the purpose of which “is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.”

Gunnison Sage Grouse

We looked at the GSG’s range relative to hydrocarbon wells in Colorado and Wyoming keeping in mind the bird’s range encompasses 11 states and “more than 165 million resource-rich acres.” This analysis encompasses much of the bird’s range accounting for 52 percent (134,149 square miles) of the aforementioned acreage (Figures 1 and 2) and 37 and 373 GSG habitat parcels in Wyoming and Colorado, respectively.

The largest shaded areas on the map are the bird’s “Current Distribution” (67,879 square miles) in Wyoming and “Historic Habitat” in Colorado (24,505 square miles). GSG’s range in Colorado is far more spread out than in Wyoming with discrete north- and southwest concentrations. Important Birding Areas (IBAs) as defined by the Audubon Society often overlap with oil and gas extraction sites as well as endangered species habitat. Thanks to the Audubon Society’s Connie Sanchez and Tom Auer we were able to determine how many hydrocarbon production wells exist within these states’ IBA parcels. Wyoming is home to 39 IBAs, while Colorado contains 53 of these designated parcels. The average Wyoming IBA is 257 square miles, however, while Colorado’s average 59 mi2. In total these two states are home to 13,154 mi2worth of IBAs. These figures account for 3.7 percent of U.S. IBAs and 2.2 percent of IBA acreage.

Figure 1. Wyoming and Colorado hydrocarbon production wells and Greater Sage Grouse Habitat. Map credit: FracTrackerAlliance

1. Wyoming: 51 unconventional hydrocarbon wells in IBAs, 2,238 in primary GSG habitat, and for some perspective 1,983 of the latter are in what EIA has designated primary shale plays. At the present time 97 percent of Wyoming’s production wells lie within some segment of the GSG’s habitat.

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  • crookedstick

    Terribly sad, as we watch the destruction of the landscape and habitat before our eyes. August 20, will see the Helicopter Round-up of close to 1,000 of the remaining 2,000 Wild horses in the State of WY on 2million acres of Checkerboard lands, alternating 1 mile sections, owned bt Anadarko Oil and the Rock Springs Grazing Assoc. The horses are being exterminated, even though protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, so the Grazing Association can enter in to a Fracking venture with Anadarko. I wish, Birders would wake up and realize the horses, in their small numbers 38,000 compared to 8-20 million cattle and sheep, could become the protectors of Sage Grouse Territory. United, horse advocates and Bird a Advocates could put the cattle where they belong, on private land.
    The Checkerboard area is prime grouse conservation area.

    The scheduled Run-Down of the horses begins Aug. 18-20. There is a possibility of a STAY Pending Appeal if only someone would intervene and STOP This dastardly plan. Horses Advocates and Grouse a Advocates need to work together.

  • DaveMurphy4561

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    • mustangslivewild

      So the oil company does not see the Wild Horses within drilling areas a problem or competition for water. Than why the big push to have them completely removed? It can not just be the cattlemen, Local ranchers have gone to BLM meetings and said let them stay and continue management.

  • DaveMurphy4561

    Vanishing Wetlands, Polluted Streams, Erosion – Iowa Pays The Price For Ethanol


    As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out
    millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted
    water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

    Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than
    Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have
    vanished on Obama’s watch. Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed
    into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in
    the soil. Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some
    of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened
    the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t

    The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many
    scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental
    policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its
    benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

    Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before
    the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south
    central Iowa. The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile
    soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited
    for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America’s demand for it.

  • Amos

    Correction: Your first subtitle says Gunnison Sage Grouse, when it should be Greater Sage Grouse. Like the Greater Sage Grouse and LPC, the Gunnison Sage Grouse is a western grouse species that is a candidate for ESA protection, but it is 1/3 smaller than the Greater, and found only in Utah and Colorado.