Sage-grouse, © Jean Bjerke

Sage-Grouse Merchants of Doubt

There’s a new documentary making the rounds, getting high reviews, and for good reason. Adapted from the acclaimed book, Merchants of Doubt by Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes and NASA historian Erik Conway, the film by the same name is a cutting exposé on strategies by certain industries to spend huge amounts of money to employ “highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire” who muddle the discourse (and facts) on public health and safety. Their goal: to create uncertainty about well-established public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to cigarette smoke to climate change. The first step in their campaign: question scientists and discredit their work.

Now industry has unleashed this tactic on current efforts to protect sage-grouse. Last week, a coalition of industries and some western counties filed petitions with the Department of the Interior challenging the science that serves as the foundation for the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy. This unprecedented planning process aims to improve sage-grouse conservation on more than 60 million acres of public land. Let’s hope this cynical ploy does not distract states and federal agencies from this important work.

(story continues below)

sage-grouse, © Margaret Sloan

Industry has challenged Greater Sage-Grouse: Ecology and Conservation of a Landscape Species and Its Habitat, a monograph written by 38 experts on sage-grouse, sagebrush steppe and land management, published by the Cooper Ornithological Society in Studies in Avian Biology, and printed by the University of California Press. It is the most important work ever written on sage-grouse by all of the most accomplished people who study the species.

We know more about sage-grouse than most any other wildlife species in the country, thanks to dedicated scientists who have committed their lives to studying the bird. These scientists have published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles on sage-grouse, and recently compiled their decades of work into an impressive monograph on the species. I have worked to conserve sage-grouse for 15 years, and I am privileged to know many of these scientists and to read their work. They are, every one of them, thoughtful, sincere professionals devoted to understanding a complex species and its fragile habitat.

These scientists sounded the alarm on sage-grouse years ago, having documented widespread habitat loss and degradation, and long-term population declines. It is their research that also provides a blueprint for restoring the species and its habitat. If put into practice, their recommendations could protect and recover sage-grouse, and also benefit hundreds of other species that depend on the sagebrush grasslands. But failure to take these steps could result in further declines of sage-grouse and their habitat.

The latest industry challenges to sage-grouse science follows sobering news that firms spent at least $9 million last year lobbying Congress on sage-grouse issues. The biggest spenders were Anadarko Petroleum Corp. ($3.1 million), National Rural Electric Cooperative Association ($2.1 million) and Chesapeake Energy ($1.8 million). Safe to say, they probably were not lobbying for stronger protections for the species.

It’s beyond time to protect sage-grouse and the quintessential western landscape where they live. Doing so benefits everyone. Instead of undermining the effort by trying to discredit science, industry should join with federal agencies and states, conservationists and other stakeholders to protect and recover this remarkable bird.

Follow the Science

Scientists have identified what must be done to truly protect sage-grouse from extinction and keep the iconic bird on the landscape.

Read More »

28 Responses to “Sage-Grouse Merchants of Doubt”

  1. Zanne

    Can’t help but think that there are too many humans on the planet and the demands put upon the earth is stretching its earthly limits which unconscionable individuals and companies are more than happy to accommodate by hacking away and diminishing natural resources for profit

    • wright

      re: too many people—-
      sometimes I think that the only way to solve the overpopulation is to have a pandemic that wipes out about 2/3 of the population. we don’t seem to have the will to solve our major problems in an intelligent way.

  2. Carol Clonen

    Please listen to our scientists and protect the sage-grouse and the western landscape. Doing so benefits everyone. Let us protect our national treasures.

  3. barbara janunas

    what could be more important than saving our wildlife.

  4. sharon


  5. Sylvia Cuolahan

    I would remind the enemies of conservation that public lands and wildlife are the people’s patrimony. Not the corporate executive’s to destroy.

  6. Jan Boudart

    Who are the dissenting scientists. Can we find their names by submitting an FOIA demand? Corporations have become part of the government (the main part?). They should be required to reveal the names of the scientists who challenge respected biologists and ecologists.

  7. Raymonde Daffe

    Arrêtez de nui re à ces oiseaux.Préservez la zone où ils pondent!



  9. Patricia Chadwick

    We must preserve this magnificent bird for future generations and to do so, we must provide protection for their leks, the open spaces where they attract and select mates. We can’t continue to allow big business, big agriculture, big ranching or mining… big, destructive, greedy anything to take over and destroy everything for their own, special interests! These birds are part of our history. We can’t let everything they need be destroyed.

  10. Kate Mabry

    Mr. Salvo:

    A most informative and written article filled with educational information and resources to learn more about the sage-grouse dilemma. Great job! Let’s pray that your wisdom and knowledge along with all the scientific data on these magnificent birds is followed by lawmakers and public land managers!

  11. Franceska T Siracusa

    Why does the beauty of this world bother you. These precious birds were put here by our Great Creator and he did put humans here to care for them, not destroy all of the lives that seem to be taken away. We have lost many species because of man and it is time to stop and listen to what is being said. Do you understand that while you are killing off all the beautiful creators, that the human race will follow suite. Also keep in mind that in the past and now in the future many types of creators great and small will die because of people like you who do not care about anything but money and greed.

  12. Margaret Johnson

    I love the sage-grouse. I used to go out with my father to hear them dance. I’ve eaten ‘dumb-bird’ when we had nothing else to eat in the house. ,

  13. Robert Hall

    Just one more species we can eliminate. We have destroyed the habitat of hundreds of species on this planet. By some estimates we have lost half the species that were on the planet at the end of the 1800’s. As we close in on one more species we get closer to being the next to be exterminated. We are loosing millions of acres of trees, and seeing outbreaks of new insects in areas that they never dominated. Our Almond business is about to die our entirely. Warming is changing the survivability of many species. When will our legislators especially Republicans forget the millions they are getting from distructive industry lobby’s and work for the public and the world. Remember we are just one more species and we are not being kind to our own species and we are killing of hundreds of others.

  14. Lorraine Jacobson

    Wise people keep the wild life that exists, because it can’t be replaced.

  15. Lorraine Jacobson

    For Heaven’s sake, keep the wolves and grouse and all things wild. There is planty of room, just dedicate some to wildlife

  16. Maggie Frazier

    How any thinking human can speak out & say there Is no such thing as climate change in this day & age is beyond belief – although, have to admit, the humans that are saying this are NOT thinking! Our public lands are being destroyed by the grazing allotment program (welfare ranching) which costs us (taxpayers) millions because the ranchers who use this program are not paying their share! And then we all hear how its the few (VERY few) wild horses & burros that are doing the damage! So we the taxpayers (again) pay the BLM for rounding up these animals – then we pay to care for them in pens – when – if the horses & burros were left on the public land – the cost would be minimal. Then there is Wildlife Services (a misnomer if there ever was one) killing millions of our wildlife every day – only to protect the same ranchers! Have we learned nothing over the past couple hundred years? Look at the old pictures of wolves-coyotes-mountain lions-buffalo all poisoned-slaughtered for their skins! Continuing to eradicate our wildlife-the damage done by oil & gas drilling – the mining! Have we really learned NOTHING? Are we going to continue to allow lobbyists & corporations to dictate what becomes of OUR world? I sure hope not.

  17. H Pat Murray

    I am a degreed biologist, in fisheries , a 25 year Boeing SPEEA worker and a vet as was my father, my brother, we all served!

  18. juls

    When will ‘humans’ stop thinking this planet only belongs to them!?

  19. joe

    I agree with all the comments posted. To able to protect all of spices out there in wild. We have to start with the people that we elect into office . And make sure they abide by the promises they propose when they running for office. When the big money talks they tend to forget their agenda that got them elected in the first place. That goes for all parties. That goes for the people that are in charge of where people build their homes and places of businesses. People want go into the mountains or sage lands. They sim to forget how they are invadeing all wildlife small and big. That’s is why there so many animals,wildlife are being killed or runover on the hiways. The farmer or rancher are being thought as one of the problem. I disagree on that issue because as a farmer/rancher we don’t destroy the land that is how we make a living. And that’s way it’s been generations.

  20. Vicki Davis

    Good luck GREED rules our government.Unless theres a mayor shift in consciousness we are doomed .This world is set up to survive we are the ones who wount

  21. Vince Gardina

    All politicians should be protecting the environment. However, some who are mostly Republican fail to even care. Whether it is sage grouse or other species, everyone should work to protect our natural heritage. If our elected officials do not, vote them out of office. I will not vote for anyone who votes against the Endangered Species Act.

  22. catina genchi

    I want to end animal instinction and cruelety to wolfs and all else but man and corporations and greed and china are killing needlessly eating all strange things it is barbasian

  23. Christopher Greffin

    Money interests unfortunately rules the day all too often. The environmentalists will win enough battles because they are on the side of reason, compassion, and science, but sadly it is a tough slog with battles lost all over the world. Let’s protect this beautiful creature and others, always.

  24. Susan M. Gubernatis

    Let’s protect this iconic bird and the landscape on which it depends.

  25. Joanne Monfort

    Yes plz save the birds esp the grouse before they become on the endangerous list I herd in ny state this year they might not have hunting season on turkeys beccause of the coldest winter see how many survive before we get our hunters out there i hope some one would clear this up if it true or just a rumor. Why was the boars been stop being hunted in ny state ??? I think all ducks could end up on the enddangerous list too . This is just me

  26. Mark Donner

    I don’t think this planet will make it. The only other consolation, is that there are of course countless other life planets in this universe. They will never know the disease called human and their magnificent plants and animals are light years safe.

You May also be interested in