Casper, WY - July 19, 2014
In a new oil field among the rolling hills near here, Chesapeake Energy limits truck traffic to avoid disturbing the breeding and nesting of a finicky bird called the greater sage grouse. To the west, on a gas field near Yellowstone National Park, Shell Oil is sowing its own special seed mix to grow plants that nourish the birds and hide their chicks from predators.
And on a 320,000-acre ranch near the northern tail of the Sierra Madres, developers of an enormous wind farm have decided not to plant turbines where some of the best onshore winds in the world blow because it is in prime grouse territory.
The spotted owl never had it this good. But like that bird, which became a bitter symbol of the conflict between the environment and economic development a generation ago, the greater sage grouse — a chickenlike bird known for its flamboyant courtship strut — has seen its numbers plunge far and fast.
Now, federal officials are weighing putting it on the endangered species list — setting off a mad scramble among the unlikeliest of allies to save the bird and avoid disrupting the nation’s enormous growth in energy production. With a range stretching over more than 165 million resource-rich acres across 11 states, the grouse is at the center of one of the country’s most important struggles: to balance the demand for energy against the needs of nature. And in the process, it has put two environmental priorities — preserving species and fostering renewable energy — on a collision course.