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Pity the Poor Sage-Grouse

Public lands for all animals



For the last four years, my wife Sue and I have been bouncing all over parts of Deschutes, Lake, and Harney Counties searching for golden eagle nesting territories. Among the sites we've found throughout the Great Sandy Desert are hundreds of square miles of land cleared of sagebrush where cows are chomping their way through what was once sage -grouse habitat.

Sage-grouse require grass between the sagebrush at least 7 inches tall to adequately protect eggs and chicks from predation. There are very few locations, besides Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge (where cattle grazing has been banned since 1993) that maintain that kind of vegetation.

In some other states, sage-grouse have been wiped out by oil and gas development. That hasn't happened in Oregon yet, but sage-grouse populations are on the decline. If there has ever been an example of how much power cattlemen have on the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon you need look no further than the public lands of Harney and Lake Counties—that's cattle country!

There are some places Sue and I discovered in Lake County where cows have actually eaten the sagebrush down to stumps. Normally that beautiful plant is as tall as a cow's butt, but in some places it has been chomped down knee-high; the trunk 6-inches or better in diameter.

To me, it's obvious that whoever allowed that land manipulation to take place had not one iota of concern for the diversity of life on the land, as long as it was converted into cow pasture.

Recently, Gov. Kate Brown met with state and county officials about the plight of the imperiled sage-grouse. The big hoorah was to achieve a cooperative venture between the counties, state, and feds to help sage-grouse make it back to a viable population—to keep them off the endangered species list. You can bet your sweet bippy cattleman don't want to see sage-grouse on that list.

Ever since the first pioneers set foot in sage-grouse habitat of eastern Oregon, sagebrush has been a thorn in the cowman's side. That is, all except the Hatfield outfit east of Brothers. They've left the sage brush alone and seem to be content with the grazing land left to them. Old Doc Hatfield was a man who saw diversity as a way to health of the land, and didn't pound on the BLM to let cattle eat away at sage-grouse habitat.

So, in my way of looking at things, the sage-grouse will never achieve the numbers found in the '50s, or perhaps achieve a population that will keep them off the endangered species list. All we can hope for is the vegans of Oregon will eventually win over us meat-eaters and get the cows out of sage-grouse habitat.

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