This goofy bird vs. the fossil fuel industry

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.

78 thoughts on “This goofy bird vs. the fossil fuel industry

  1. Years later some kid will look up US history and say: "oh look, Trump was such a good president. During his office US economy boomed. I wonder though how half of US wildlife got extinct since then huh"

  2. The fact is, this is inevitable under our economic system. Companies can only see the environment in one of two or three ways: one, as a resource to be exploited, two, as a dump for waste, or possibly, three, pretending to protect it as a PR move.

  3. Well business/money/peoples lifelihood/US supremacy vs nature/bird/future availiability of this bird? So it's either be a pro lifer/pro US or a treehugger.

  4. The stopped getting oil in their country but started stealing them in the middle east and killing their people in the process

  5. Sage grouse? Sooo that's their are called? I used to think they are bird with breast or just breast bird……….and now I know their name.

  6. This is gonna sound all Hippy-Dippy, but Big Corolful Birds (and their Bird Mating Dances) are 'Sofa King' Cool.!! I'm not talking about little Sparrows, etc., and I'm not going to stand in some freezing marsh to see them, but birds like these Exotic types just Fascinate me.
    Just imagine them as their Giant Prehistoric Dinosaur ancestors! How Cool would that be to see?! That's what we're pumping up to the surface.
    Maybe that's why oil slicks have such pretty rainbow, feathery colors.

  7. The humans have one thing not all of us that we didn't care about something until we know we will lose it forever and about trump i think obama was far greater than trump

  8. I am not american but please dont vote for trump again, we need to potect that beautiful creature in this planet at all cost

  9. If you’re telling me that the Sage Grouse is convincing congress to stop drilling/mining more-so than the Native Human beings, Theres something extremely wrong here!

  10. We choose to protect what we see as profitable, and not the bigger picture. That visual hint just blew my mind. Thank you, editor/s.

  11. We have a similar issue here in Brazil, with policies that show how the actual government just doesn't care for conservation, all in the name of "progress". Could you imagine rich forests like the Amazon and other environments with yet-to-be studied species, rivers and natural cycles that we depend on being devastated for wood extraction and to create areas for agriculture and cattle raising? That's what's happening now and the government not only makes it easier for them but also jokes about the situation.

  12. Why are these “pilgrims” NOT protesting the inefficient windmills that are killing endangered bird species with their blades?

  13. when the Obama administration came, health care to every living things
    when Trump administration came, climate change and global warming is not a real thing, who cares about health, people who have money can pay to themselves, we need more oil, I am the chosen one

  14. Do this only reason is that they are an indicator species? I don’t want them to go extinct, but I expected more.

  15. I just wanna respect the Vox team for, not only, choosing a good topic but for also having a team willing to make a 6 and a half minute video after tons and tons of tiring research

  16. the 5-minute mark: It's hailed as the largest conservation effort in US history
    me: smiles* oh that's nice, good job Wyoming.
    5:12: but today, Donald Trump's-
    me: OH COME ON PeOpLe

  17. Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) conservation is another reason why we need to get big money out of politics.

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