Gunnison Sage Grouse
As goes sagebrush, so goes the Gunnison sage grouse. These highly adapted
birds rely on this shrubby vegetation for food, camouflage, and nesting material.
Sagebrush rangeland also provides the setting for the species' highly unusual mating
dance, a succession of struts and popping noises that has long entertained human
observers. Indeed, it is thought that the Utes and other American Indians based some of
their own dance rituals upon the sage grouse's courtship routine.
When the Utes still reigned here, Gunnison sage grouse
ranged over all of southwestern Colorado and into
Utah and Arizona, in flocks as dense as the
sage itself. But as settlers began clearing the
land in the late 1800s, the Gunnison sage grouse's
habitat began shrinking, a process that accelerated with
the expansion of residential development in the
twentieth century. Dove Creek saw its Gunnison
sage grouse population dwindle from several
thousand in the mid-1800s to about 150 by the 1950s.
Many other species (including elk and deer) use
sagebrush for food, but the Gunnison sage grouse truly
cannot survive without it. So in recent years wildlife managers have
worked cooperatively with landowners to preserve sagebrush habitat,
even to reseed the plant on acreabe previously cleared of it. These
measures have enabled Colorado's Gunnison sage grouse population to
stabilize on the small pockets of habitat that remain.