Powder River Basin Sage Grouse On The Brink Of Extinction

May 1, 2015

At a public meeting this week in Buffalo, the state’s sage grouse team heard ideas for increasing the Powder River Basin grouse populations. A new Pew Charitable Trust report shows that the area’s sage grouse are close to extinction with a 98 percent chance that in 30 years there will be less than 50 birds left there. Wildlife biologist Erik Molvar with the environmental group WildEarth Guardians says the coalbed methane industry played a role in the decline.

“[By] putting reservoirs to hold all that coal bed methane waste water all over the landscape by the thousands, [that] creates wonderful breeding habitat for mosquitos. Which coincidentally carries the West Nile virus,” Molvar says. “And in many parts of the Powder River Basin, you had major West Nile outbreaks that mowed down the sage grouse.”

At the meeting, Molvar says his group proposed expanding the bird’s protected habitat by restoring abandoned well sites.

“WildEarth Guardians proposed a kind of revolutionary concept which was a core area in the center of the Powder River Basin,” Molvar says, “right over the Big George coal seam where the habitats have already been heavily developed for coal bed methane. But the coal bed methane industry has kind of gone belly up. And it’s time to look at those areas once again.”

The Governor’s sage grouse team will vote on that idea and other proposed changes to the bird’s protected range at a meeting next week in Douglas.