July 2016 | Namrata Narasimhan

Living with the sage-grouse

Wyoming's sage-grouse population is reviving even as industries have come together to help conserve the local flora and fauna through innovative and practical solutions for co-existence

  • The greater sage-grouse is a large upland game bird native to Wyoming and the western United States. It derives its name from the sandy-coloured, prickly sagebrush that forms its habitat. This low-flying bird in brown and white hue stands about two feet tall and is entirely dependent on the sagebrush for survival. It is an 'indicator' species — if the bird's populations are healthy, it's likely that the overall sagebrush habitat is healthy too.
  • In late 2010, Wyoming's sage brush habitat ended up being a central feature in a conservation debate for the sage-grouse. The increase in mining activity and oil and gas development, combined with changes in precipitation patterns, resulted in a sharp decline in the sagebrush habitat as well as the sage-grouse population, leading to concerns about the bird's future.
  • Concerned by the dwindling sage-grouse population, Tata Chemicals (TCL) North America became involved with the sage-grouse conservation efforts. The company took the lead in bringing the surrounding industries together in mid-2014 to form the Wyoming Mining Natural Resource Foundation (WMNRF). Members of the WMNRF have been working together to find innovative solutions to conserve the natural habitat of the sage-grouse.
  • One of the changes implemented at the mines of Tata Chemicals was the development of the #7 shaft. This ventilation shaft ensured that sound generated in the mines become inaudible about halfway between the shafts and the sage grouse lek (areas where they engage in competitive mating displays), while providing adequate ventilation for operational and regulatory requirements. As the sage-grouse mating is sensitive to sound and decide their mating ground based on it, this was a practical solution.
  • Conservation efforts spearheaded by Tata Chemicals North America and WMNRF, combined with an increase in rainfall, have led to signs of recovery in the greater sage-grouse population figures. Once on the verge of being declared an endangered species, the sage-grouse is now an example of how businesses can proactively conserve critical wildlife habitat in innovative and sustainable ways.