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Sage Grouse Takes Center Stage In Fight Between Mining Interests And Birders

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
This March 1, 2010 photo released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a bistate distinct population of the greater sage grouse male struts to attract a mate at a lek, or mating ground, near Bridgeport, Calif.

Conservationists are urging the federal government to extend federal protections to the American sage grouse, a bird that’s at the center of a conflict between conservationists and mining interests.

That conflict is focused on land conservation, including lots of territory in eastern Washington and Idaho.

The charismatic bird can be compared to the spotted owl for the Pacific Northwest, according to many bird lovers and groups that protect them – among those the American Bird Conservancy.

Steve Holmer is a spokesman for that group. He works in Washington D.C. and says the display of colors when sage grouse males take a hillside can be noisy.

“It is quite a spectacle … and they do make a really amazing guttural sound. They kind of whoop as the males clash to gain control of these – what they call the leck,” says Holmer. “So it is quite a display and something that people increasingly go check out where they have them.”

Mining groups say they support a science-based Idaho alternative to the listing of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and that drought and wildfires are bigger threats to sage grouse habitat than mining of public lands.

They say the withdrawal of 10 million acres from mining claims in Idaho is unprecedented and constitutes the largest take back of land since 1976.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to