By Carlie Connolly
Being new to Southern Alberta, I have learned more about the estimated 100 remaining sage grouse and the debate raging over how to save them than I ever could have imagined.
Is it a case of ‘too little too late’ or does recent government emergency measures actually solve the problem?
I’m sure there is much to be considered such as the estimated 10 million in lost oil revenues over the next decade, the impact on ranchers and their livelihood from grazing limits and then of course, the poor sage grouse threatened with extinction.
Hyland Armstrong who has been a rancher for most of his life gave a talk last week on how livestock is created and managing the landscape for biodiversity.
He says that the sage grouse population is declining because of a number of things such as: West Nile disease, industrial activity and fragmentation of landscape.
“We have to sit back and look at what the science is telling us. It’s not telling us that ranchers are doing anything wrong,” he says. Armstrong says that looking at the research in the United States, using sustainable stocking rates and proper livestock management practices, cows and sage grouse will get along.
If the will is there to protect the sage grouse, perhaps a little plain old education and financial assistance to implement a solution might be the order of the day. After all, if we know there are only 100 left, we should also know where they are and devise a plan that all can live with to protect and assist their population growth.
One of the key components Armstrong mentions is developing grazing plans specifically designed for range health. “The idea is going to die, a life happens, okay. But we’ve got a healthy range.” “But what happens is the bird comes back because we have a healthy range,” he says.
As long as one keeps the cows at carrying capacity, the sage grouse wont be affected. The most important thing that Armstrong mentioned for ranchers to consider is when he moves his cows. Anything that a rancher does is management and so its about making a management plan focused on range health and making adjustments for the sage grouse.
A good grazing plan and understanding biodiversity is what people have to keep in mind.
Ranchers need to help maintain the ecosystem from falling apart. Armstrong says that once you lose biodiversity, you no longer have an ecosystem and with no ecosystem, you cant ranch.
Government emergency measures with a lot of permitted exceptions may not work and too much compromise may send the sage grouse to extinction but getting the stake holders together – ranchers, oil folks, Federal and Provincial governments as well as those who can speak for the grouse, with a little science thrown in should enable a plan that everyone can agree on.
It may be a simplistic view, to save a species ‘by committee’, but, if nothing is done, either the sage grouse or the economy and way of life for many will take a tragic hit.