Battling for Sage Grouse habitat

 

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Rahul Mukherjee, a Salt Lake City high school senior with a passion for birds, has been spending a lot of his time on the phone reaching out to others about the imminent threat of development to the Sage Grouse in Morgan County, Utah.

 

He is concerned that the owner of a  3,000 acre parcel of land – which is exactly the spot where Greater Sage Grouse gather every spring to do their courtship – may soon put the land up for sale if Morgan County agrees to change the zoning status of the land. This would mean the end of all of that Sage Grouse habitat.

 

Rahul is just one of many, including a large number of Utah organizations, working to protect this important Sage Grouse habitat.

 

The beginning of enchantment with birds

 

A field trip leader for the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society, Rahul first became enchanted with birds as a ninth grader, when, for a school biology project, he recorded the vocalizations of 35 birds, the first one being a Red-Winged Blackbird.

 

This past July, he was selected as one of sixteen attendees, from among applicants from all over the world, to attend the Cornell Young Birders Event. He learned how to record bird vocalizations with special equipment and was able to go birding with the Cornell Directors, where they saw, for the first time in that area, the very rare Upland Sandpiper. They also spotted the Cerulean Warbler and Red-Headed Woodpecker.

 

Rahul’s bird photos will be on display at the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Corrin and Jack Sweet Branch, next January 17, 2015.

 

Watching the courtship of the Sage Grouse

 

The spring of 2012 was the first time that Rahul, along with his classmates, traveled to the lek, in Morgan county to see the courtship dances of the Sage Grouse. A lek is the gathering of male birds who engage in a mating contest. Those with the most impressive display of their colorful expanded throats are the ones most sought after by the females.

 

He went again, with his dad, this past April.

 

They arrived around 4:30 in the morning and, even though there were fewer Sage Grouse than there had been two years earlier, they were able to see around 25 of the amazing birds.

 

They watched the males doing their remarkable dance, and heard the popping sound they make in their throats. They were able to watch for 30-40 minutes before the birds scattered when they saw a Golden Eagle.

 

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Working on behalf of the birds

 

Rahul has taken the initiative to contact many conservation organizations and others who may be able to help save this beautiful area where the Sage Grouse traditionally gather every year for their courtship ritual. He explains, “It is our responsibility to take care of these animals. Just because they can’t express their emotions doesn’t mean they don’t have emotions. Birds feel pain the same way we do. I speak for those that can’t speak.”

 

Rahul adds, “Who doesn’t want conservation?” But he says, “Until we have had experience with the birds, then we are lacking a connection. I was so fascinated by the birds that I became involved with bird conservation.”

 

The threat to the Sage Grouse

 

The area where the Sage Grouse lek takes place every year is in the southern corner of Morgan County, to the north of Salt Lake City. It is 3,000 acres, which has been zoned for “Natural Resources and Recreation.” The owner of the land, Yaryca LLC, wants to sell the land for development and has applied to the county to have the land re-zoned to change the designation to “Master Planned Community.” If this goes through, the beautiful wild sagebrush lands and the Sage Grouse will all be gone, to be replaced by resorts and condominiums.

 

The Greater Sage-Grouse is on a waiting list to be put on the Endangered Species List. This may or may not happen within the next few months. Those wishing to sell the Sage Grouse land in Morgan County wish to sell it quickly because, if the Sage Grouse is put on the Endangered Species List, then new buyers will no longer be allowed to develop the land – UNLESS they have already started the development process. If they have already begun to proceed with development, they will not be stopped. Therefore speed is of the essence, both for the current land owner and for buyers.

 

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As for the Greater Sage Grouse, they would like to keep the habitat that nature has given them as their home – to live in and as a place to gather together over future years for their courtship, breeding, nesting, and raising new generations of Sage Grouse.

 

How you can help

 

A public hearing will be held next Thursday, August 14, 2012.

Please attend if you can.

 

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING:

 

THURSDAY, August 14, 2014 @ 6:30 PM

Morgan County Courthouse – 48 West Young StreetCouncil Chambers

Yaryca Future Land Use Map Amendment: An application for an amendment to the Morgan County Future Land Use Map, redesignating approximately 2980.4 acres currently designated “Natural Resources and Recreation” to “Master Planned Community.” All interested citizens are invited to attend and will have the opportunity to give written and oral comment.

 

How to send a comment

 

Prior to the hearing date, public comments will be accepted.

 

Please send a polite comment expressing your concern about the loss of this lek and Sage Grouse habitat to

Bill Cobabe, AICP, Zoning Administrator

Email: bcobabe@morgan-county.net

Or call: 801-845-4059.

 

Top photo and second photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, in the Public Domain.

Third photo: National Park Service, in the Public Domain / Rabbit brush, sometimes used for cover by the Greater Sage Grouse.

 

 

 

 

 

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