Image For A New Year

greater sage grouse, endangered species act

Greater Sage-grouse Spring Snow : Prints Available

A Greater Sage-grouse displays for nearby females on a lek (mating ground) south of Pinedale, Wyoming. Sage-grouse perform their elaborate display in spring to impress females for the right to mate. The imperiled birds live in sagebrush their entire life-cycle and are a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. 

As I looked back on 2014, I kept returning to this one image. Of thousands of photographs made last year, there is prescience in this one photo, this single male Greater Sage-grouse. In January, Sage-grouse tuck under sagebrush for protection from winter storms and eat the grey-green leaves to sustain them through a harsh winter. And in just over two months, they will return to mating grounds, called leks to perform their spectacular mating ritual. Males with spiky tail feathers fanned and chests puffed up, seem to double in size while displaying for females, making popping sounds over and over from their bright yellow air sacs. Just a few dominant males will do the actual mating, and the spectacle will last into May. I’ve documented the cycle here before, how Sage-grouse spend their entire lives in sagebrush, and why protecting sagebrush habitat on a landscape scale is critical to the health and sustainability of natural systems in the American West. In spite of the toxic Washington political atmosphere, bureaucrats monkey wrenching the Endangered Species Act, and widespread cynicism; I remain optimistic. There is real momentum towards collaborative change in how these lands and wildlife are viewed and managed in the West and there is no turning back. When Sage-grouse return to their leks in spring, as they have for 25 million years, sandhill cranes, mule deer, pronghorn, migratory songbirds, and hundreds of others species will also be stirring and migrating. I’m mindful that humans aren’t separate from these natural processes, that ecosystem health is our life support and wild inspiration nourishes the human spirit. Each time I return to this image of a single Greater Sage-grouse, I return to that tranquil moment in a cold nylon hunting blind and smile because this bird embodies hope, inspiration, resilience, and what is right in the West.
Happy New Year.

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