The sage grouse relies on large tracts of unbroken sagebrush habitat, miles of scrubby bushes flowing like an ocean, unbroken by towns and roads. Housing developments, roads, invasive species, and wildfires are fragmenting sagebrush habitat that used to cover 460,000 square miles of North America.
Energy development is a key threat to the sage grouse too. Beyond oil and gas drilling there's another, almost unlikely, culprit involved. Some western conservationists are speaking out urgently against a power source often thought of as one of the greenest — wind farms.
A fund that helps preserve some of the nation’s most iconic natural areas is set to expire in 2015 if it’s not reauthorized by Congress.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created in 1965, uses royalties from offshore oil and gas development to build, maintain, and protect public access to outdoor recreation areas – from local community parks to the majestic Continental Divide Trail, which runs through Colorado.
The Rocky Mountain region fire outlook [.pdf] is not as bad as that of 2012 – at least not yet. For those with short memories, that was the year of the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, some of the largest and most destructive in Colorado history. Last year, 2014, was relatively calm, following a large snowpack and a cool, wet early summer.
"Right now we're kind of sitting in between those years, a 2012 and a 2014," said Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist with the federal Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, based outside Denver. "We're definitely not as wet as we were last year at this time, but we're not quite as dry as we were in 2012, our snowpack is a little bit better."
A long-term forest health improvement program that began in 2009 is making a difference in Colorado and other states, according to a report from the U.S. Forest Service.
The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is focused on 23 sites covering more than 1.4 million acres nationwide. This includes a large swath of Front Range forest land within the Arapaho-Roosevelt and the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.
Efforts at the sites include thinning and other activities to improve forest health and wildlife habitat, while reducing the risk of wildfires.