Experts say that if wildfires in the Great Basin of Idaho can't be stopped, the sage grouse population could be cut in half.
Scientists working with the U.S. Geological Survey have released a report on the threats facing the wildlife in the Great Basin of Idaho. According to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle, wildfires burning throughout the state could cut sage grouse populations over the next three decades if firefighters fail to stop the blaze.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a court-ordered deadline of September 30 to determine whether sage grouse should be classified under the Endangered Species Act. Opponents of the classification claim that protecting the birds could cause strain on Western States’ economies.
Matt Brooks, a fire ecologist from the USGS, believes the sage grouse are in serious danger. “The sagebrush steppe and sagebrush ecosystem are in trouble,” Brooks said.
Additional help from the USGS could bolster public land managers’ efforts to classify areas for the birds’ resilience to disturbance and ability to withstand invasive species in their habitat, like cheatgrass.
The report failed to mention the wildfires that have been ravaging the West over the summer, including a 436-square-mile blaze in southwest Idaho that leveled almost 300 square miles of grouse habitat. Much of this area included breeding grounds for the birds.
The sage grouse is roughly the size of a chicken, and lives on the ground in 11 western states. A large part of their habitat is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and their population has declined from the millions to an estimated 500,000.