A new study of disappearing sage grouse in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and other western states will likely escalate a long-running political fight over protection for the chicken-sized birds.
A study published this month for the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that numbers of sage grouse plummeted by 56 percent from 2007 to 2013 - down from more than 109 thousand breeding males to about 48,000.
That's bad news for 11 western states which are lobbying federal agencies to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list, a move which would have repercussions for land use- largely wind farms, mining and cattle grazing. Several GOP members of Congress are also pushing bills to delay any such listing for the birds.
The research was led by University of Idaho wildlife ecologist Edward Garton and by Adam Wells, a research scientist at Washington State University.
Garton said the research "should and must ring alarm bells." Without new significant protections. he said, quoting - this important bird and the entire sagebrush steppe region face irreparable harm."
Sage grouse once numbered in the millions across the largely arid sagebrush region, but about half their habitat has been lost due to development, invasive species, wildfires and disease.
Sage grouse are considered an indicator species, meaning the health of the population reflects the overall health of their ecosystem.