Male Greater Sage grouse ready to take center stage

RBC I Moffat County is home to some amazing sights. One of the most spectacular is the world-renowned annual spring mating dance of the male Greater Sage Grouse.
In March and April male sage grouse strut their stuff in an elaborate dance designed to show off their prowess and attract mates. The unique courtship entails male sage grouse inflating air sacs on their chests while dancing on their ancestral breeding grounds called “leks.”
The dance is so special that naturalists, bird enthusiasts and biology students throughout the world consider it one of the greatest displays in the animal kingdom.
In 2010, the Greater Sage Grouse became candidates for the Endangered Species list. In an effort to educate the public about the threats to the birds and their habitat and to increase awareness of how we can prevent listing, the local Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Wilderness Society, along with the Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Division of Wildlife, area ranchers and Craig businesses provided guided grouse tours. Partially sponsored by the Moffat County Tourism Association, a second year of tours will occur this spring.
A great deal of work goes into planning the event to reduce impact to the birds.
“Every part of the event is planned to encourage tourism and keep our guests and the birds safe. We use a Division of Wildlife custom built viewing trailer parked near a lek on private land. Our agreements with the land owners and the Division of Wildlife require that we restrict visibility and only allow access to the site to people who are accompanied by our expert guides,” states CEC northwest organizer Sasha Nelson.
The day starts early, at 4:30 am.
“The lek we’ve chosen is not easy to access and we want to reduce disruption to the birds by sneaking into the trailer before sun-up,” explains CEC west slope campaign coordinator Luke Schafer. “Then we stay in the trailer until the birds are naturally inclined to leave; usually when predators such as birds of prey or coyotes venture too close.”
“According to species surveys, Moffat County has some of the best remaining habitat and flocks of Greater Sage Grouse,” exclaims TWS northwest wilderness organizer Soren Jespersen. “Despite the hard work and early mornings, we run these tours to provide a business model showing the economic value of conserving our public lands and the species that rely upon them for survival.”
“With the species’ future in doubt, we don’t know how long it will be possible to view them dancing on the windswept sagebrush sea,” says Nelson.
“This year we have improved the trip process and intend to increase the number of trips we make,” states Schafer.
Seats sell out fast so don’t miss out on this rare and amazing chance to see one of the West’s most iconic animals.
The tours will take place between March 28 and April 10, departing from Craig, Colo., at 4:30 a.m. Special rates are available for residents of Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. To reserve a seat visit www.ourcolorado.org. For more information please e-mail Sasha at sasha@ourcolorado.org or call (970)824-5241.