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Fossil Fuel Development Taking a Toll on Sage-Grouse and Other Wildlife

January 19, 2012
Mark Salvo (505) 988-9126 x1165
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Wildlife

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Fossil Fuel Development Taking a Toll on Sage-Grouse and Other Wildlife

Greater Sage-grouse Ranks among Top Ten Species Imperiled by Oil and Gas Industry
Contact: Mark Salvo (505) 988-9126 x1165

Additional Contacts:

Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance,307-742-7978

Josh Pollock, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-552-6001

Denver – Oil and gas extraction is threatening greater sage-grousein the West and other imperiled wildlife across the nation, according to a newreport by the Endangered Species Coalition. FuelingExtinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink highlights tenspecies that are particularly vulnerable to impacts from oil, gas and coal. Thelist spans the entire country, and has special significance in western Coloradoand Wyoming, where sage-grouse habitat is increasingly fragmented by well pads,compressor stations, access roads, power lines and pipelines.

“America’soutsized reliance on dirty and dangerous fuels is making it much harder toprotect our most vulnerable wildlife,” said Mark Salvo, Wildlife ProgramDirector at WildEarth Guardians and head of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. “Weshould not sacrifice our irreplaceable natural heritage in order to make thefossil fuels industry even wealthier.”

From the Gulf ofMexico to Alaska, the report highlights the ten most endangered animals,plants, birds and fish at risk of extinction due to the pursuit of fossilfuels, and shows how wildlife suffers displacement, loss of habitat and thethreat of extinction from the development, storage and transportation of fossilfuels. Coalition members nominated candidates for inclusion in the report, andsubmissions were then reviewed, judged, and voted on by a panel of scientists.The report identifies the home range, conservation status, remaining populationand specific threat facing each of the ten finalists.

Inaddition to the loss of habitat to roads and well pads that are scraped cleanof sagebrush, greater sage-grouse are highly sensitive to noise and visualdisturbance from oil and gas drilling, especially on their traditional matinggrounds, known as leks. Recent studies show negative impacts to sage-grousemating and brood rearing activities from oil and gas facilities as far as fourmiles away from lek sites.

In2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that greater sage-grouse warrantprotection under the Endangered Species Act, but declined to add it to thefederal threatened and endangered species list, citing an existing backlog of pendinglisting decisions. Since then, state governments and federal land managementagencies have increased efforts to conserve sage-grouse and their sagebrushhabitats. The Bureau of Land Management, which manages approximately half ofall sage-grouse habitat in the West, is currently revising management plansacross the West to better protect sage-grouse and the places they live.

“Sage-grouse are an icon of the Western landscape,” saidJosh Pollock, Conservation Director at Rocky Mountain Wild. “If they are introuble, it means we should be very concerned about what’s happening to ourwide-open western landscapes and the sagebrush country that supports dozens ofother wildlife species, like pronghorn, elk, golden eagles, and swift fox.”

Other examplesof at-risk wildlife include the dwindling population of bowhead whales off thecoast of Alaska – threatened by contaminants and noise from offshore drilling -to the dunes sagebrush lizard in Texas, where habitat loss and degradation and leakingpipelines are contributing to the reptile’s decline. Elsewhere in the country,the iconic and endangered whooping crane overcame near extinction in the 1940s,only to face a new battle for survival from the proposed Keystone Pipeline,which would run alongside the crane’s long migratory path, destroying restingplaces and food sources. The lingering impacts of the Deepwater oil disaster inthe Gulf of Mexico are destroying the sole breeding ground of the Kemp’s ridleysea turtle. And inAppalachia, toxic coal waste is dumped into streams, smothering the threatenedKentucky arrow darter and other fish, as well as poisoning the drinking watersupply for downstream communities.

“Weare paying a high price for the destruction of sagebrush country and thenation’s land, water, air and wildlife by subsidizing the oil and gasindustry,” said Duane Short, Wild Species Program Director at BiodiversityConservation Alliance. “Taxpayers will hand out nearly $100 billion to oil andgas companies in the coming decades. Meanwhile, oil companies paid their seniorexecutives $220 million in 2010 alone, while ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BPcombined have reduced their U.S. workforce by over 11,000 employees in thepast six years.”

FuelingExtinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink calls for a commitment to a clean, safe andsustainable energy future, and urges lawmakers to honor the intent of theEndangered Species Act while reducing the country’s dependence on dirty fossilfuels.

For more information and toview the full report, go to: http://fuelingextinction.org.

Top 10 List of Wildlife Threatened by Development, Storageand Transportation of Fossil Fuels

Bowhead Whale: The remainder of the endangered bowheadwhale population is threatened by contaminants, noise from off shore oildrilling, and deadly collisions with ships. An oil spill could easily wipe outthis small population, which lives solely in icy Arctic waters.

DunesSagebrush Lizard: The dunes sagebrush lizard is a candidate for listing underthe Endangered Species Act due to impacts from oil and gas drilling on thePermian Basin in western Texas. Habitat loss and degradation, disturbance fromwell pads and leaking pipelinescontribute to the decline of the lizard’spopulation, which exists on a tiny range within the Basin’s vast oil reserves.

Graham’s Penstemon (flower): This delicate flower lives only on oilshale reserves targeted for mining in Utah. Oil shale mining takes massiveamounts of water, putting the flowers at risk of either being starved of wateror drowned under new reservoirs. Oil shale soils are very unstable, and anydevelopment can bury or uproot the few remaining plants.

Greater Sage-Grouse: Energy development has caused habitatloss and fragmentation due to roads, pipelines, power lines, and human andvehicle-related disturbance, resulting in marked declines in sage-grousenumbers. Coalbed methane gas development in the Powder River Basin of Wyominghas coincided with a 79 percent decline in the greater sage-grouse population.

Kemp’sRidley Sea Turtle: According to U.S. Fish andWildlife Service, the Kemp’sridley is the most seriously endangered of all sea turtles, due to lingeringimpacts of the Deepwater oil disaster on Gulf waters – the sole breeding groundof the turtle. In the immediate aftermath of the oil spill, 156 sea turtledeaths were recorded; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys.

KentuckyArrow Darter (fish): Toxic waste pushedinto streams from mountaintop coal mining is smothering the rare Kentucky arrow darter fish andpoisoning the drinking water of downstream communities. Thearrow darter has alreadybeen wiped out from more than half of its range.

Spectacled Eider (bird): Oil andgas development, along with climate change, have drastically reduced the frigidhabitat range of the threatened spectacled eider. As a result, the westernAlaskan population dropped by 96 percent between 1957 and 1992. Aircraft andvessel traffic and seismic survey acoustic activities can all negatively impactthe bird’s habitat and cause death.

Tan Riffleshell (mussel): This endangered molluskplays a critical role in the health of Appalachianriver habitats by filtering pollutants and restoring nutrients to the water.Acid mine drainage, sedimentation from coal mining, and coal ash landfills arecontaminating the mussel’s habitat and breeding areas, further threatening thismost endangered member of the mussel family.

Whooping Crane: The endangered whooping crane overcame near extinction in the1940s, but the existing wild flock of 437 cranes now faces a new battle forsurvival. The proposed Keystone Pipeline would run alongside the crane’s entiremigratory path from Canada to Texas, and the inevitable toxic waste ponds, collisionsand electrocutions from power lines, along with potential oil spills, woulddecimate the vulnerable remaining population.

Wyoming Pocket Gopher: It is estimated that fewer than 40 pocketgophers exist today in their sole range in Wyoming’s Sweetwater and Carbon Counties. Truck and vehicle traffic associated withincreasing oil and gas activities result in habitat loss and fragmentation, cuttingoff potential mating opportunities and endangering the survival of this rareanimal.

Advocates Choice – ThePolar Bear: The polarbears’ survival is completely dependent upon sea ice, which is rapidly melting.They are further threatened by the risk of an oil spill, and activities likeseismic testing, icebreaking, and vessel movement also negatively impact polarbears and their food sources.

Other Contact
Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 307-742-7978
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