Animals/Wildlife

American Pharoah is poised to make horse-racing history Saturday if he wins the Belmont Stakes and accomplishes that rare feat — a Triple Crown victory. His owner will also get a nice payday. But the real financial windfall comes later.

In America, thousands of thoroughbreds are born every year, and every year only one gets to win the Kentucky Derby.

The chances of winning the Triple Crown — the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont — are even slimmer. Only 11 horses have ever done it. If American Pharoah wins, he will be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge sits just northeast of Denver. Inside the refuge's 16,000 acres, bison roam and prairie dogs scamper in view of a professional soccer league stadium and the Denver skyline.

The refuge opened the doors to its visitor center in 2011. Since then, visitors numbers have skyrocketed, said David Lucas, who manages the refuge for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Last year we had over 300,000 visitors."

Before long, he expects that number to reach a million a year. In response, the refuge is putting together a plan to open new areas to the public and continue improving the habitat for wildlife. 

Animal Defenders International, used w/ permission

Cholita, the ex-circus bear will not be coming to Colorado.

Due to age and poor health, Animal Defenders International announced that Cholita, a rare Andean or Spectacled bear, will remain in her native Peru for the rest of her life.

Bob Wick, Bureau Of Land Management / Flickr - Creative Commons

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service has announced a new plan to protect the greater sage grouse from extinction, while hoping to prevent the bird from being added to the endangered species list.

The sage grouse population has dropped from 16 million birds to less than half a million, mainly due to lost sagebrush habitat. The bird's range spans 11 western states including Colorado.

"As land managers of two-thirds of greater sage grouse habitat, we have a responsibility to take action that ensures a bright future for wildlife and a thriving western economy," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the announcement in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

A listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could deeply affect the industries making up the backbone of the Western economy like agriculture, oil and gas and mining. Stakeholders across 11 states are working to save the bird's population before the federal government steps in.

"Nobody likes the red tape, you know, the federal government bureaucracy stuff," said Wes McStay, a northwest Colorado rancher who allows conservation groups to host sage grouse lek tours on his ranch.

That's a sentiment they can agree with in nearby Wyoming, where nearly 40 percent of the entire sage grouse population lives and where the state is working to save sage brush land.

Bureau of Land Management

Gov. John Hickenlooper released an executive order calling for a voluntary market-based protection system for the greater sage grouse.

The order is aimed at protecting the bird and keeping it off the endangered species list. The primary strategy Hickenlooper embraced is a voluntary program allowing ranchers and landowners to sell credits for habitat improvements to industries like oil and gas that have a negative impact on grouse habitat.

"We firmly believe that state-led efforts are the most effective way to protect and conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat," Hickenlooper said in a statement.

Stacy Nick / KUNC

The National Sculptors’ Guild Sculpture Garden is meant to showcase how the outdoors can be an ideal place for art. Executive Director John Kinkade said the garden is purposefully kept fairly natural to encourage wildlife. On that count it is perhaps too successful, at least one busy beaver has made itself at home.

“I think they must be art appreciators,” Kinkade said. “Because so far they’ve avoided all the sculptures. They’re felling these trees so that they do not hit sculptures.”

Maybe not the friendliest of art critics though, right?

For the first time in 90 years, U.S. health officials say they have diagnosed a case of the plague that may have spread in the air from one person to another. Don't be alarmed — the plague these days is treatable with antibiotics and is exceptionally rare (just 10 cases were reported nationwide in 2014).

And if the plague has become mostly a curiosity in the United States, this case is more curious than most.

Tom Koerner/USFWS / Flickr - Creative Commons

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.

Fans of Boulder County's osprey nest cam saw a bit of drama last season.

Two females and a male were living in the nest, when a third female arrived and kicked the original female out. Observers said she bonded with the male.

"People called it ... the 'home-wrecker osprey,' " says Nik Brockman, Boulder County's web specialist.

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