A male sage grouse inflates the air sac in his chest as part of a mating dance.

A male sage grouse inflates the air sac in his chest as part of a mating dance.

Todd Sonflieth/OPB

Sage grouse may be listed as an endangered species this fall, their populations are declining by 2% annually. Threats to sage grouse in Oregon include: wildfire, invasive species and juniper encroachment into sage brush land. Angela Sitz a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explains, “Sage grouse are an indicator of a healthy landscape…They require unfragmented, relatively undeveloped, intact sage brush range lands.” 

The possible listing has garnered attention from the ranching community in Eastern Oregon. Some farmers are getting ahead of the game by signing a voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). These contracts require farmers to help eliminate threats to sage grouse on their property by marking fence lines, removing intrusive juniper, treating invasive grasses, and adding escape ramps to troughs. In return, if the birds are eventually listed, the landowners with CCAAs in place will not have to comply with new regulations for the next 30 years.

Sitz says getting the CCAA program started “wasn’t an easy road.” Carol Dunten an Eastern Oregon cattle rancher says, “We have not had a lot of interaction with the federal government on a positive basis.” Dunten is applying for a CCAA because, she explains, “I would worry eventually about mandatory regulations that aren’t set in place by people who know the range and the area. That might cause us to lose our property.” Dunten is a fourth generation rancher and says she hopes to keep the ranch in her family for generations to come.