Greater Sage-Grouse urophasianus subspecies
Scientific Name: Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus
Other/Previous Names: Sage Grouse (Prairie population)
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: December 2021
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: In Canada, this large grouse is restricted to sagebrush-dominated landscapes in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The loss, fragmentation and degradation of this habitat as a result of oil and gas exploration, overgrazing by livestock, and conversion to crops has resulted in a substantial population decline over the past several decades. Trend estimates over the past three generations are imprecise, but monitoring efforts indicate further abandonment of some historically occupied breeding sites. Despite recovery efforts, the Canadian population remains small, with a current estimate of only 120 to 220 mature individuals. There may be limited immigration from Montana, but the numbers are likely insufficient to substantially increase the Canadian population.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Given conditional designation of Threatened in April 1997. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in April 1998 based on a revised status report. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000, April 2008, and December 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
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Image of Greater Sage-Grouse urophasianus subspecies
Two subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse are known from Canada: Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus, which is found in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Centrocercus urophasianus phaios, which is now extirpated but was formerly present in the southern Okanagan valley in British Columbia.
Greater Sage-Grouse is a chicken-like bird, with brownish-grey upperparts and a blackish belly. The undersides of the wings are whitish. Its long black-and-white tail has distinctive tips. It is the largest grouse in North America. Adult males have a white band on a black throat and a large ruff of pointed white feathers concealing the yellowish air sacs that inflate during courtship displays. Other male characteristics include fleshy yellow combs above the eyes and long, hairlike feathers arising from the nape. Both sexes have a diagnostic black patch on the belly (it is larger on the male). The female has more cryptic plumage and an inconspicuous comb above the eye and is smaller than the male, which can reach 75 cm in length.
Distribution and Population
As its name suggests, Greater Sage-Grouse is found in western North America in areas where sagebrush grows. It is currently found in southeastern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan and 11 states in the western United States. Before Greater Sage-Grouse disappeared from British Columbia, there were populations in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Based on historical accounts, there has been a 90% reduction in range and a substantial decrease in the number of breeding locations.
Recent estimates show that the number of individuals in the two provinces fell from 777 in 1996 to 450 in 2006, a 42% decrease. Between 1988 and 2006, the total Canadian population decreased by 88%. Similar results have been obtained for the number of leks (the male courtship display sites), which decreased from 30 in 1996 to 15 in 2006, a drop of 50%.
In Canada, the urophasianus subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse is found in the mixed grassland ecoregion, a warm, dry region where the native vegetation has now been significantly reduced. The presence of Greater Sage-Grouse is associated year round with sagebrush habitat (specifically silver sagebrush in Canada). Specific attributes within the sagebrush community are required during breeding, nesting, and brood-rearing and in the winter. Leks, where males perform courtship displays to attract mates, are generally clear areas with little sagebrush or other plants. However, the presence of vegetation to conceal the nest is crucial. In Alberta, most nests are located under silver sagebrush plants. Greater Sage-Grouse depends on sagebrush for food year round. Sagebrush constitutes over 47 to 60% of the adult diet in the summer and 100% in the winter.
In the spring, male Greater Sage-Grouse congregate on leks to attract mates. They perform spectacular courtship displays: as they strut, they inflate and deflate their throat sacs with a popping sound, throwing their heads back, spreading their wings and fanning out their tails. In Alberta, females reach the leks around April 5, shortly after the males. Exhibiting fidelity to nesting sites, females disperse after mating and rear their brood alone. The average clutch size in Alberta is eight eggs; incubation lasts 25 to 29 days. In Canada, eggs hatch during the first two weeks of June. Sagebrush is the main component of the adult diet, but adults also eat other plants and insects. Greater Sage-Grouse is long-lived, but the low survival rate of chicks could lead to population declines. Common nest predators in Canada include the American badger, raccoon, striped skunk and red fox.
Habitat loss and degradation are the most significant threats to the urophasianus subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada. The transformation of the habitat of Greater Sage-Grouse into farmland played a major role in its decline. Heavy grazing, particularly over the long term, has detrimental effects on the species. Furthermore, large areas of sagebrush grassland have been converted to the exotic crested wheatgrass for cattle forage. These introduced stands have limited potential in terms of winter forage and shrub and forb cover.
Oil and gas development near leks represents another threat to the urophasianus subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse in Alberta. During the oil exploration boom in the 1980s, the number of males displaying on leks in southern Alberta decreased by approximately 50%. Oil and gas wells and associated pipelines affect 28% of sagebrush habitats across the species’ range.
Industrial development has also fragmented sagebrush habitat through the addition of buildings, highways, trails, fences and electrical poles. In addition, a number of these structures provide raptors with prime perching sites.
Predation may be a factor limiting nest success. Habitat alteration may result in a loss of concealment cover for grouse or a change in the predator community.
Drainage impediments such as dams, dugouts and reservoirs increased fourfold in southeastern Alberta between 1951 and 2001, altering hydrological regimes and degrading silver sagebrush communities. More than 80% of the current range of the urophasianus subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse in Alberta has been altered by such impediments.
Because of the small size of the population in Canada, the urophasianus subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse is highly vulnerable to climatic and chance events. Extended droughts in recent years may have reduced the already limited amount of sagebrush that the grouse need for nesting and brood-rearing.
Mortality due to West Nile virus could devastate the small Canadian populations.
The Greater Sage-Grouse urophasianus subspecies is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).
More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
The urophasianus subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse is found in Grasslands National Park of Canada, where it is protected under the Canada National Parks Act.
The urophasianus subspecies is also protected under the Saskatchewan Wildlife Act, 1998 and the Alberta Wildlife Act, which prohibit harming, destroying or collecting adults or eggs or destroying occupied nesting sites.
In addition, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Habitat Protection Act prohibits cultivating native grasslands and selling public lands that contain Greater Sage-Grouse habitat.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus)
Status Final posting on SAR registry
Name Amended Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry
Alberta Sage Grouse Recovery Team
Dale Eslinger - Chair/Contact - Government of Alberta
Phone: 403-529-3680 Fax: 403-528-5512 Send Email
Greater Sage-grouse urophasianus subspecies Recovery Team
Dale Eslinger - Chair/Contact - Government of Alberta
Phone: 403-529-3680 Fax: 403-528-5512 Send Email
Troy Wellicome - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
Phone: 780-951-8671 Fax: 780-495-2615 Send Email
Recovery Progress and Activities
Summary of Progress to Date
The Greater Sage-grouse recovery team aims to reverse the declining trend in numbers of Sage-grouse and active Sage-grouse leks in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The recovery teams aim to conserve a population of at least 365 males in Alberta and 500 males in Saskatchewan, with 16 or more leks in Alberta and 30 or more leks in Saskatchewan.
However, the population has remained less than a third of the targeted population size since 1994. With such small population sizes, the species is increasingly vulnerable to threats such as West Nile virus, and managing for high quality habitat to increase population productivity is more urgent than ever.
Both the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments participate in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) for which 11 states and 2 provinces have signed an accord for Sage-grouse management across the range in North America. In 2004, WAFWA published a comprehensive report entitled Conservation Assessment of Greater Sage-grouse and Sagebrush Habitats (available at www.sagebrushsea.org/WAFWA_page.htm)
Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities
Changes in Sage-grouse populations are detected by monitoring males on leks, where they display to attract females for breeding. In Alberta, Sage-grouse have been monitored since 1968.
Researchers have established that Sage-grouse require different habitat features at different stages in their lives; males display on open, heavily-grazed areas, pairs nest in thicker sagebrush with grass cover, and chicks are raised in forb-rich areas. Greater Sage-grouse chicks have a very high mortality rate, and it is estimated that chick survival would need to at least double for the population to stop declining. A study of habitat selection in Alberta revealed that Sage-grouse require sagebrush or other shrubs to nest under, along with herbaceous understory vegetation (including tall grasses) to conceal the nest from predators and provide food for chicks when they hatch. The results of this study suggest that a small increase in sagebrush cover on the landscape (to about 15%), along with increased forb cover, may be sufficient to increase chick survival and stabilize Alberta’s Greater Sage-grouse population. Several landscape management options, including alternative grazing scenarios and active management of sagebrush, should be tested. Habitat management will require providing a mixture of landscape types.
Canada is the northern extent of the Sage-grouse range, and the Canadian population may have become separated from the core population in Montana, possibily resulting in genetic inbreeding. Preliminary research results suggest that both Alberta and Saskatchewan have moderate levels of genetic diversity and that there may be limited gene flow between Canada and Montana. However, genetic diversity in Alberta Sage-grouse decreased between 1998 and 2004. Furthermore, developmental problems found in embryos collected from unhatched eggs in Alberta appear to be genetic in origin.
Sage-grouse populations in Canada might be extremely vulnerable to disease, including West Nile virus. Therefore, researchers examined populations that had their first exposure to West Nile virus in 2003. These populations had a 25 per cent decrease in late summer survival of females, and the virus was confirmed to have killed 18 birds. Furthermore, grouse tested after the outbreak did not have antibodies, indicating that they did not develop resistance to West Nile virus. Researchers also found that larger, healthier populations in higher quality habitat (in the United States) were less vulnerable to West Nile virus.
Sage-grouse habitat has been mapped in southeast Alberta using aerial photography of the vegetation and landscape as well as locations data from radio-tagged grouse.
Summary of Recovery Activities
Since 2000, all known Sage-grouse lek sites in Alberta have received protection, including land use guidelines that ensure that nearby activities do not disturb leks. Additionally, Alberta legislation was amended to restrict bird dog training activities within the range of the Sage-grouse, in order to reduce mortality.
The majority of Sage-grouse habitat is on Crown land used for cattle grazing. Therefore, it is critical that ranchers adopt grazing methods that protect sagebrush habitats. Although the ecology of Silver Sagebrush and the effects of grazing management require further study, the current state of knowledge and preliminary definitions of best grazing management practices for Sage-grouse are provided in Beneficial Grazing Management Practices for Sage Grouse and Ecology of Silver Sage in southeastern Alberta (www3.gov.ab.ca/srd/land/pdf/Sage_Grouse_and_Grazing3.pdf).
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
33 record(s) found.
Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation
This document reports on implementation of the Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada between 2016 and 2021. It reports on implementation of measures identified in the plan, assesses progress towards meeting site-based population and distribution objectives, and evaluates socio-economic impacts.
COSEWIC Status Reports
Sage Grouse, commonly known as Sage Hens or Sage Chickens have the scientific name (Centrocercus urophasianus) which means "Spiny Tailed Pheasant”. This name comes from the long pointed tail which is fanned out by males during mating displays on leks. Sage Grouse are true grouse, not pheasants as the scientific name implies.
Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is the largest grouse in North America. It is one of two Centrocercus species; the other is the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Centrocercus minimus, restricted to the Gunnison Valley of Colorado. Two subspecies of Greater Sage-Grouse are known from Canada: C. u. urophasianus in Alberta and Saskatchewan and C. u. phaios in the south Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. The latter form is extirpated.
This large grouse is restricted to sagebrush grasslands in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and has suffered significant population declines (42% over the last 10 years, 88% since 1988). The number of leks (male display sites) has decreased by 50% in the last 10 years and there are now less than a thousand breeding birds in the population. Causes for the decline are largely due to the loss, fragmentation and degradation of its native grassland habitats through oil and gas exploration, overgrazing and conversion to crops.
The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers under SARA for the recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse and have prepared this amended recovery strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
This amended recovery strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse updates and replaces the previous recovery strategy that was posted in 2008 and the Replacement of Section 2.6 of the Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada that was posted in 2009.
The Minister of Environment is the competent minister under SARA for the recovery of the species on lands covered by this action plan and has prepared it to partially implement the associated recovery strategies, as per section 49 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Government of Saskatchewan (Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Water Security Agency, Ministry of the Economy) and with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Parks Canada Agency.
The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.
The purpose of the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse, made pursuant to the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is to address the imminent threats to the survival and recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse, including by protecting the habitat identified in the Emergency Order to help stabilize the population and begin its recovery.
COSEWIC Annual Reports
2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Permits and Related Agreements
Annual Lek Surveys and Habitat Assessment of the Greater Sage-Grouse in Grasslands National Park of Canada
Sage grouse lek counts will be conducted annually during the spring breeding season (March through early May), with efforts focused on capturing peak lek attendance. As outlined in the recovery strategy; annual spring lek surveys must be conducted maintain a temporal index of population status and trends and to assess progress towards recovery goals. All occupied and, to the extent possible, abandoned leks will be monitored in accordance with accepted standards for lek monitoring. Each active lek within GNP will be surveyed four times from March 27th to May 30th to determine the peak number of males present at each site. Surveys will be conducted by PCA employees and a small handful of experienced volunteers. Best management practices will be followed to ensure lekking birds are not disturbed. Historical leks will be surveyed to a lesser extent for sage grouse occurrence, including both in person surveys and remote detection using song meters.
The habitat near sage grouse leks will be surveyed in person to assess its suitability as nesting and brood-rearing habitat using established biophysical features correlated to sage grouse occupancy. Potential habitat will be surveyed for new lek sites. Cattle-grazed habitat achieved through grazing leases within the park will also be surveyed both before and after prescribed grazing to assess the effectiveness of grazing manipulations for managing sage grouse habitat. Grasslands National Park uses prescribed grazing as a management tool to manipulate vegetative characteristics in such as was as to increase habitat diversity (measured using indicator species) and to promote healthy critical habitat characteristics for species at risk. As recommended in the amended recovery strategy, grazing in sage grouse critical habitat has been prescribed in such as way as to benefit sage grouse.
To collect eggs from the Greater Sage-grouse (GRSG) population in Grasslands National Park, for captive breeding and reintroduction of this endangered species in Canada.
This project ties together ex-situ and in-situ conservation for the GRSG. At this point in the project the focus is the collection of 23 eggs (approximately 3 clutches) in 2016 from wild populations in Grasslands National Park to achieve a captive population for future reintroductions in Canada or northern Montana. Terrestrial field work will include: lek surveys, attaching transmitters to hens, trapping hens on the lek, tracking hens to nests and collecting the first clutch of eggs. Field staff from the Calgary Zoo and Parks Canada will use night-time spot-lighting and long-handled nets, or walk-in traps to capture hens. Hens will be handled to attach VHF necklace transmitters and released. Radio- tracking will be used to locate hens on nests and to obtain eggs. In addition, follow-up monitoring of the hens will be conducted to see if they are re-nesting, and to determine the fate of these nests. Any eggs collected will be transferred into a portable incubator and transported back to Calgary Zoo for the captive breeding program. Trapping on the lek will be limited to a 7-day period to minimize the impact of trapping on the lekking grouse. Traps will be pulled immediately as soon as the permitted number of hens are obtained. At the discretion of the Resource Conservation Manager at Grasslands National Park, the trapping period may be extended.
The University of Alberta is actively undertaking a project in conjunction with Grasslands National Park to develop effective methods to enhance and restore sagebrush grasslands as habitat for the greater sage grouse in southern Saskatchewan. The goal of the project is to create high quality greater sage grouse habitat on currently sub optimal grassland. The project includes experimental research and active enhancement resulting in development of best management practices for enhancement and restoration of greater sage grouse habitat. The research will require destructive sampling for the aging of approximately 116 silver sagebrush plants and removal of native grasses and forbs (approximate total area 459 m2) around planted silver sagebrush plugs. This sampling and removal of native grasses will contravene the Emergency Order for the Protection of Greater Sage-grouse (EPO).
The objectives of the program are to: (i) Identify GNP anthropogenic structures used as roosting sites by LBMY; (ii) Assess occupancy of roosting sites and colony size over time; and, (iii) Return an inventory of the GNP bat community. As the majority of Myotis species cannot be reliably identified without capture and direct handling, capture is required to return an inventory of the GNP bat community. Bats will be captured using mist nets, which is a common technique for surveying bats as part of species inventories (Kunz and Kurta 1988, Vonhof 2010). Mist netting will occur on a maximum of 6 nights. We expect approximately 0-100 bats/night to be captured during the course of the survey. Approximately 10 minutes/bat are expected to be needed for taking body measurement, id the species, sex the individuals and take wing swabs (if applicable). Highly pregnant bats will be released immediately. Depending on funding availability, mist-netting surveys may be repeated in different zones over multiple years, in order to return a more precise snapshot of the GNP bat community.
Additionally, up to 6 Bat detectors will be placed in potentially good bat habitat (e.g. nearby oxbows, ponds, creeks/rivers, coulees, etc.) for up to 6 days to acquire information on bat habitat use, inform selection of future mist-netting sites and help inventory of species community. In order to optimize detection and identification of bat species, bat detector units will be mounted on poles approx. 2.5-3 m high. This activity represents a violation of the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-grouse.
Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus; hereafter, GRSG) juveniles born and raised in captivity by the Calgary Zoo will be held in soft-release pens within the West Block of Grasslands National Park as part of an augmentation program for the breeding population. The soft-release pens will be taller than 1.2m high and will be erected in an area covered by the Emergency Protection Order for Greater Sage-grouse but will have perch deterrents. After a 1-2 week acclimation period in soft-release pens, the birds will be released with radio-transmitters attached and their survival/reproduction success (e.g., mortality, lek attendance, nest success) monitored.
This is an application under the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse (EPO) to complete the development of two trails in Grasslands National Park, SK. The work will include moving or possibly killing sagebrush plants, native grasses or native forbs. This is in contravention of Section 3(1)(a)(b). The outstanding work is along the existing 5 km footprint of the 70 Mile Butte Trail developments as well as along the existing 2 km footprint of the Eagle Butte Trail. The work includes backsloping along the trail and installing a retaining wall to support a switchback. This will require cutting soil from the slope and compacting this soil below the cut to form a slightly sloped, hardened pathway. Heavy equipment required for the project includes a mini excavator, walk behind/tracked skidsteerer, power wheelbarrow and vibratory plate compactor. Other hand tools that may be used for the project include McLeod hoes, Pulaskis, wheelbarrows, shovels, fire line hoes and leaf rakes.
Parks Canada is constructing a scenic road with parking areas, viewpoints, connecting walking trails, day use areas and a 3.2 km neighbour/emergency access along the eastern edge of the East Block of Grasslands National Park (GNP). The project will provide basic access to key locations in GNP and meet commitments outlined in GNP's 2010 Park Management Plan to improve road access, develop interpretive viewing and day-use areas, and to increase infrastructure to enhance visitor experience in this area of the park.
The road will be on the upland grasslands between the badlands to the west and privately-owned cultivated fields to the east. The 10.85 km low-profile, asphalt-topped, single lane road (no ditches, road top flush to ground, 3.5 m wide) is designed to accommodate two-way traffic at speeds of 20-30 km/h using a series of laybys for passing (pullover spots) every ~400 m. The road will replace an existing 13 km dirt vehicle trail, portions of which have been maintained as motorized vehicle access trails and other portions as hiking/wagon trails since park acquisition. Prior to park acquisition, past landowners used it for access of pasture lands and fire response for decades. In addition to enhancing visitor experience, the road will address informal vehicle trail use and unauthorized off-roading.
Project activities will take place within critical habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse and Sprague's Pipit and contravene s.58 of SARA.
Road signs will be installed within five areas in Grasslands National Park that are protected under the Emergency Order for the Protection of Greater Sage-grouse (EPO). They will be considered non-compliant with the structural height prohibition as they will be taller than 1.2 metres.
Parks Canada is obtaining possession of 50 - 80 feathers of the Greater Sage-grouse from the Calgary Zoo. The feathers were found on the ground, shed from living captive birds or else taken from captive birds that had died from reasons unrelated to this project. The feathers will be used in predator studies within Grasslands National Park in order to help recover the endangered sage-grouse.
Repair of cattle water sources at four locations on lands owned by Grasslands National Park is proposed. Two of these locations that require off-trail access (Dam W and Dugout N, Figure 1) are in legal subdivisions identified as necessary habitat for recovery and survival in the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-grouse (EPO). Although maintenance to the already established dugout and dam does not contravene the EPO according to section 5(d), incidental destruction of sage brush may take place when accessing the sites with a pick-up truck and track hoe used to repair the water sources since these sites are not located on an existing road or trail. Section 3(1)(a-b) of the EPO states that it is prohibited to kill or move sage-brush, native grasses, and forbs. Destruction of sage-brush is possible but destruction of native grasses and forbs is unlikely because work will take place during the winter when the ground is frozen and there is snow cover.
Traffic control/safety or visitor safety signs may need to be installed in Grasslands National Park in areas protected by the Emergency Order for the Protection of Greater Sage-grouse (EPO). These signs may be in contravention of height restrictions specified in the EPO (Section 3(1)(f) that restrict the installing or constructing of a structure, machine or pole (other than a fence) that is greater than 1.2 m in height in a designated legal subdivision or road allowance). These signs are necessary for traffic and visitor safety so perch deterrents will be installed to prevent predators of sage-grouse from perching on installed signs.
Parks Canada will be conducting prescribed fires in the Gergovia area of Grasslands National Park to: enhance native seed production, restore ecological integrity by mimicking natural disturbances, facilitate shift of vegetation composition from non-native to native plant species, increase spatial and temporal heterogeneity, manipulate grazing patterns, and enhance wildlife habitat. Prescribed fires also result in reduced wildfire risk by creating landscape level barriers that limit the potential for uncontrollable wildfire spread, and protect park staff and visitors, valuable infrastructure, facilities, and natural and cultural resources. The proposed Gergovia prescribed fires contravene section 58 of the Species at Risk Act by temporarily destroying critical habitat for Greater Sage-grouse. Once burned, critical habitat may not be available to Greater Sage-grouse in the year of the prescribed fire until regrowth occurs.
Parks Canada conducted a 160 ha prescribed fire within the East Block of Grasslands National Park, for the purposes of enhancing habitat for Greater Sage-grouse (GRSG). Benefits of prescribed fire on the landscape include: enhancing native seed production, restoring ecological integrity by mimicking natural disturbances, facilitating shift of vegetation composition from non-native to native plant species, increasing spatial and temporal heterogeneity, manipulating grazing patterns, and enhancing wildlife habitat. Prescribed fires also result in reduced wildfire risk by creating landscape level barriers that limit the potential for uncontrollable wildfire fire spread, and protect park staff and visitors, valuable infrastructure, facilities, and natural and cultural resources. This activity will contravene section 58 of the Species at Risk Act. Greater Sage-grouse critical habitat occurs throughout Grasslands National Park, including the planned burn location.
Grasslands National Park is conducting a hayfield restoration project on lands under the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-grouse. The intent is to restore tame hayfields dominated by smooth brome (Bromus inermis), which do not offer suitable sage-grouse habitat, to native species and sagebrush cover appropriate for sage-grouse. This project supports the sage-grouse recovery goal of increasing availability of nesting/brood rearing habitat. It is possible that some native plants, including sagebrush, may be damaged or destroyed in the process of removing smooth brome. Any destruction of native grasses, forbs and sagebrush on lands protected by the Emergency Protection Order would contravene s 3(1)(a) of the Order. However, hayfields are not considered functional habitat and the activity is expected to support recovery or survival.
Parks Canada will be conducting prescribed fires throughout Grasslands National Park over the next 10 years for a variety of purposes including: 1) to enhance native seed production; 2) to restore and maintaining ecological integrity by mimicking natural disturbances; 3) to facilitate shift of vegetation composition from non-native to native plant species; 4) to increase spatial and temporal habitat heterogeneity; 5) to manipulate grazing patterns; 6) to enhance wildlife habitat; and 7) to prevent large, uncontrolled wildfires, thus protecting park staff and visitors, valuable infrastructure, facilities, and natural and cultural resources.
These activities will contravene section 58 of the Species at Risk Act for Greater Sage-grouse and Sprague's Pipit, and section 3(1)(a) & (b) of the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-grouse. Greater Sage-grouse and Sprague's Pipit critical habitat occurs throughout Grasslands National Park, and many of the potential prescribed fire locations for the next 10 years will take place within this critical habitat.
Parks Canada is partnering with SaskPower to reroute close to 11 km of service lines in the park to reduce the amount of overhead line running through critical habitat for species at risk. This project will work towards site-level population and distribution objectives for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) by removing power poles in critical habitat, while maintaining power service and improving sightlines and reducing fire risk. Tall vertical structures in and adjacent to critical habitat are identified in the Amended Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse published by Environment Canada in 2014 as a chronic disturbance that could threaten the recovery and survival. The new line will be buried underground, becoming an overhead service line once it leaves the area of critical habitat. Work is estimated to reduce the amount of critical habitat for sage-grouse viewable by predatory raptors from power poles by 450 ha, improving sensory habitat components adjacent to the active lek that are most likely to be utilized for nesting and brood-rearing. Work will involve removing poles in native prairie and along the road, as well as trenching in the new line along the road. Some of this work will occur on prairie dog colonies and may temporarily destroy approximately 1% of prairie dog residences on one colony. Prairie dogs are expected to re-colonise the area after project completion. The work of the machinery is also expected to destroy some native vegetation which is prohibited in some areas of the project under the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-grouse.
Grasslands National Park will install a weather station in the West Block of the park to provide real-time weather information in a backcountry area of the park. This information will support the fire and visitor safety programs in the park. The station is a 3 m tall mobile station attached to the ground with bin anchors It is not a structure that will provide a perching opportunity for predatory birds. A fence has been built around the station to exclude grazing cattle and prevent damage to the weather station. The installation of this weather station and exclusion fencing will destroy 0.3 ha of critical habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse and is also prohibited under the Emergency Protection Order for the Greater Sage-grouse.
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Successful recovery of the Sage-Grouse requires involvement of agricultural producers, local stakeholders and governments at all levels. For its part, the Government of Canada starts with developing a Recovery Strategy. The Recovery Strategy is a planning document that describes current scientific knowledge on threats to species and identifies critical habitat needed for the survival and recovery of the Sage-Grouse. The Recovery Strategy also identifies measures that could be taken to help stop the decline of Sage-Grouse. Voluntary stewardship actions by agricultural producers are important to Sage-Grouse recovery, and assistance is available from the Government of Canada to support activities recommended in the Recovery Strategy.
The purpose of the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse is to address the imminent threats to the survival and recovery of the Sage-Grouse to help stabilize the population and begin its recovery. The Government of Canada’s goal is to achieve the best protection for the Greater Sage-Grouse, while minimizing impacts on landowners and agricultural producers. The Emergency Order will come into force on February 18, 2014. The prohibitions contained in the Emergency Order only apply to habitat on federal and provincial crown lands in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. Grazing will not be regulated by the Emergency Order. In areas where grazing can be modified to improve Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, the Government of Canada will provide incentives for voluntary stewardship measures through programs like the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk.
The Greater Sage-Grouse is a large ground-dwelling bird that has finely marked brown, black, beige and white upper parts, a black belly, and a long pointed tail. It is the largest grouse species found in North America. Within the white breast feathers of the male Greater Sage-Grouse, there are two large air sacs that are inflated and deflated as part of a spectacular mating display.
The Sage-Grouse is an endangered bird species that depends on the unique prairie ecosystem in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 2012, there were estimated to be roughly 100 adults remaining in Canada. The population has declined by 98% since 1988.
The Government of Canada’s plan for successful recovery of this species includes the Emergency Protection Order, which focuses on imminent threats to the species in the wild, the Amended Recovery Strategy, which will guide recommended voluntary stewardship activities on Sage-Grouse habitat, and a joint program with the Calgary Zoo to breed and rear Sage-Grouse chicks in a safe environment to help increase the population in the wild.
Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette
The Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) is listed on Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act as endangered.
The Greater Sage-Grouse (Prairie population) [Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus] is a species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act as endangered. Critical habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse is identified within the Replacement of Section 2.6 of the Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) in Canada.