Importance of Natural Resources

This goofy bird vs. the fossil fuel industry


These people are on a pilgrimage. They’re in one of the most remote parts of the United States, to see something
spectacular that happens every year. An icon of the American West. This is a sage grouse. And this is its mating dance. The sage grouse once numbered in the
millions across this entire region. But today, they are on the verge of endangerment. And the area they live on has shrunk by half. That’s a problem. And
not just because it’s fun to look at. It’s because the sage grouse is actually
really important. And to understand why, you have to understand its dance. This is a female sage grouse. And this is a male sage grouse. During mating season, it’s big and flamboyant looking, all so that it can attract mates. It’s sort of like a peacock in that way. The spiky tail, the puffed out chest —
they don’t serve a clear function except to be attractive. These white feathers on
its chest are rough and spiky. And for the first step of its dance, the
sage-grouse takes a deep breath and it swishes its wings against those spiky feathers. It sounds like this this. These yellow things are its vocal sac. It’s
actually one esophagus with a strong muscle in the center. When the sage grouse takes in a gulp of air, it contracts. When it breathes out. the vocal
sac pops. That sounds like this. Female sage grouse can hear these sounds from up to two miles away. And then it’s a competition. The strongest male dancers crowd out the weaker ones. The winner gets to mate with most of the females. After they mate, the females go up to ten miles away to nest. But this arena, where the competition goes down, that place stays the same every year. Sage grouse live across this whole vast
area. But year after year, they each come back to do the courtship ritual in the same exact spot: One of these blue dots. It’s why sage-grouse watchers always
know where to find them. That mating area is called a lek. And it’s a big part of why sage grouse matter so much. Coming back to the same place every year means that sage grouse are really easy to keep track of. Some leks have been monitored
by researchers for more than 75 years. They’re so easy to count that
conservationists consider them an indicator species. That means they use the number of sage grouse as a sort of proxy for how healthy the entire
sagebrush ecosystem is. If sage grouse are doing well, there’s a good chance that elk, and pygmy rabbits, and the 350 plant and animal species in the region are doing okay too. That also means that if you want to protect wildlife in the American West, figuring out how to protect the
sage grouse is a good strategy. In 2008, Wyoming implemented a new policy aimed
at protecting the bird. It ended up also having major benefits for another animal — the mule deer. But because sage grouse are so easy to count, we also know that they are in trouble. The lek is where the sage grouse mates, but it’s just the epicenter of a much larger range where they live. And in order for them to keep
coming back to the lek to reproduce, sage grouse need the entire range to be
undisturbed. That means if human activity alters this
range, they tend to not return to the lek — they don’t reproduce. Montana started keeping track of sage grouse leks in 2002. Since then, their population in the
state has fallen by nearly half. There are a lot of reasons for this
decline — invasive plant species, wildfires, but a big one is drilling and mining. “Western states have increased production dramatically in recent years.” “A huge amount of new oil.” “Oil, coal, and natural gas dominates the landscape and the economy.” Wyoming has the most sage grouse of any state. Here’s a map of leks in Wyoming. And these are oil and gas fields. In 2015, governors from four states announced a plan with the federal government to protect the sage grouse. It banned mineral mining across ten million acres
of sage grouse habitat. And it restricted oil and gas leasing in 13,000 square miles of the most critical habitat areas. It was hailed as the largest conservation effort in US history. But today, Donald Trump’s administration isn’t enforcing the restrictions on oil and gas leasing. And it canceled the ban on mining here. And the numbers reflect that: since he took office, oil and gas leasing on public land in the US has skyrocketed. And on land the 2015 plan was supposed to protect, leasing has gone up tenfold. Today, officials predict that sage grouse numbers will keep falling. The sage grouse is an indicator species. It means that the sage grouse can tell you a lot about the health of the entire
sagebrush ecosystem, across the American West. But they can also indicate
something about American policy. About the power that fossil fuel and mining companies have over government. About what we choose to protect. And what we don’t.


Reader Comments

  1. Didn't you just do a video like this?.. we get it,you don't like trump. He is pro mining and industry which is obviously not the best for nature. It is good for the humans living them, at least in the short term.

  2. Those birds don't provide social value or keeps the bills paid or the lights on. You people are horrible for capitalism

  3. You can choose to protect these birds. You can also choose to ignore facts. Which side of the fence do you choose to be on.

  4. Not going to watch this because, A its "vox" and, B… "fossil fuels" do NOT, and NEVER existed. Petrolium is created by underground pressure over thousands of years. "fossil fuel" is ANOTHER jesuit LIE.

  5. I feel so defeated knowing we did something to help the ecosystem just for our President to reverse all the good we did. 🙁

  6. trump has taken an oath to destroy anything beautiful america has.
    i wounder how long it will take to undo his madness after hes impeached.

  7. Why is Trump being so ignorant about nature, the biodiversity?
    What does he/his people want to achieve with this?
    Why is this all about political power?
    I can never understand their motives.

    (I'm a student of science, an MS in Biology, deeply interested in ecology evolution & conservation)

  8. I'm so proud of & thankful to Vox, especially the creators and everyone behind this video.

    We NEED people to see the importance of such keystone species/ indicator species, these core ideas of ecosystems, habitats, invasive vs native species, interconnectivity of animals, plants, fungi, microbes.

    The sage grouse is a textbook example for Lekking type of mating system, known to science grad students who may have taken evolution and/or ecology courses.
    Knowing will pave way to better conservation efforts and policymaking. (I hope so)
    Big thank you once again.

  9. If oil and gas production has gone up on public land emphasize the word public you can go there and not be told to leave maybe just you know start a little campfire next to an oil well on public land just make sure you got a camping permit for public land

  10. fossil fuels will eventually become obsolete in the near future with the advent of renewables, i wonder why trump is still so obsessed with it. china is even switching to renewables so rapidly

  11. Extinct animals vs fossil fuels ? OIL WINS !!!! yaaaaay
    That is a NO brainer . . Is the sage grouse more "important" than our entire way of life ? (no)

  12. Good thing conservatives want a federal government that respects the will and laws of states.

    Oh wait that has never mattered.

  13. "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure" (Goodhart's law)
    If you create specific programs to protect this one species, it will no longer be an indicator of how other species are doing.

  14. I can't believe this is the first time seeing and learning about this bird. Everything about it―its appearance, the sounds it makes, and its behavior―it almost seems fictional! What a fascinating creature.

  15. Those birds are a lot more fun than the domestic chicken I have no Idea why people didn't get creative when they decided which animals to farm.

  16. I didn’t really think trump was doing any wrong until I’ve seen all the damage he’s done to his own country and to the world regarding climate change and wildlife

  17. Are they a bioindicator just because their easy to count? It doesn't seems plausible. They should play a bigger role in the whole ecological function of their habitat.

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