Skip booklet index and go to page content

Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) in Canada

Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) in Canada Greater Sage-Grouse (January 2008).

Species at Risk Act
Recovery Strategy Series

Greater Sage-Grouse

January 2008


About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species' persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA spell out both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What's next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry.


Recovery strategy for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) in Canada

January 2008

Recommended citation:

Lungle, K. and S. Pruss. 2008. Recovery Strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) in Canada. In Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series. Parks Canada Agency. Ottawa. vii + 43 pp.

Additional copies:

You can download additional copies from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration photo credit:

Source: Public Domain; photo: Fish & Wildlife Service

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement du Tétras des armoises (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) au Canada ».

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Environment, 2008. All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-0662-47559-0
Cat. No. En3-4/53-2008E-PDF

Content may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


Under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996), the federal, provincial, and territorial governments agreed to work together on legislation, programs, and policies to protect wildlife species at risk throughout Canada. The Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA) requires that federal competent ministers prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species.

The Minister of the Environment presents this document as the recovery strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse, urophasianus subspecies as required under SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the species, as described in the Preface. The Minister invites other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering Greater Sage-Grouse to use this recovery strategy as advice to guide their actions.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide further details regarding measures to be taken to support protection and recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse, urophasianus subspecies. Success in the recovery of this Greater Sage-Grouse depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the actions identified in this strategy. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, all Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the species and of Canadian society as a whole. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.


Ken Lungle, Perdix Professionals, Edmonton, Alberta
Shelley Pruss, Parks Canada Agency


A document of this nature requires the dedication and commitment of many organizations and individuals. The authors are especially indebted to Pat Fargey and Joanne Tuckwell of Parks Canada for guidance, information and many interesting discussions relevant to recovery planning. Special thanks are also extended to Dale Eslinger and Joel Nicholson of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Sue McAdam of Saskatchewan Environment for valuable information and insight into Greater Sage-Grouse conservation initiatives in the two provinces. Above all, the energy and the wisdom of the people from government, academia, and private agencies that participated at a recovery strategy development workshop (see Appendix A) and reviewed drafts of the document are greatly appreciated.

Strategic environmental assessment statement

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all Species at Risk Act (SARA) recovery strategies. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision making. Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The results of the SEA (Forrestall 2006) are summarized below.

This Greater Sage-Grouse recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus). Species that will benefit from protection of the shrinking sagebrush ecosystems include the endangered Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) and Burrowing Owl (Speotyto cunicularia), the threatened Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides) and Mormon metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo), and the Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), listed as special concern. This recovery strategy will also have a positive effect on native culture by promoting the recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse, a living part of native culture. However, three situations were identified where there is the potential for negative effects.

First, it was determined that a strategy researching the use of fire as a tool to stimulate and revitalize sagebrush communities could lead to activities involving the controlled burning of prairie habitat. This could potentially have a negative impact on other species directly or through disturbance or destruction of their habitat and/or residences. Being aware of other species at risk in the specific area and following best fire management practices would reduce or eliminate any potential negative effects on other species. Any prescribed burning within a national park would require a more detailed environmental assessment under CEAA.

Second, investigations into the impacts of human created water control structures on natural hydrology and the resulting effects on sagebrush could lead to actions involving the alteration of hydrology. Altering the hydrology of an area could have potential negative effects on other plant and animal species directly or through disturbance or destruction of their habitat and/or residences. Any alterations to hydrology should take into account effects on non-target species and may require a more detailed environmental assessment under CEAA.

Third, strategies relating to the protection or increase of silver sagebrush habitat would have a positive effect on all species that share the same habitat as the Greater Sage-Grouse, as discussed above. However, increasing available sagebrush habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse could potentially have a negative impact on the Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus), which requires short vegetation and bare ground. However, the Mountain Plover is a species listed under the SARA and therefore requires a recovery strategy that will address monitoring, research and threats, which may include impacts as a result of increasing sagebrush habitat.

The SEA concluded that this recovery strategy will have many positive effects and not cause any important negative effects, as long as the mitigation measures recommended are implemented. This includes any further assessments of actions identified as a result of research conducted in this recovery strategy, such as burning or altering hydrology within a national park.


SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating” [SARA S2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.

Sage-Grouse residences are protected from damage or destruction under the SARA. The species experts involved in the recovery of Sage-Grouse consider nests to be residences.


This Recovery Strategy addresses the recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse, urophasianus subspecies. In Canada, this species can be found in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.

This recovery strategy for the Sage-Grouse was developed by the authors for the Parks Canada Agency on behalf of the competent minister (the Minister of the Environment). It was developed in cooperation with a Sage-Grouse working group that met in February 2006. Members of that working group consisted of representatives from provincial government wildlife and land management agencies, land managers, conservation organizations, industry, academia, Parks Canada, Environment Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Appendix A).

A Greater Sage-Grouse recovery team was established in 1997 by Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 2001, a Canadian Greater Sage-Grouse recovery strategy was produced (Canadian Sage-Grouse Recovery Team 2001) that reviewed Greater Sage-Grouse background and status, established recovery goals and objectives, and provided strategies for population recovery. This recovery strategy updates the one developed in 2001 by Alberta and Saskatchewan and will be the first recovery strategy for the Greater Sage-Grouse, urophasianus subspecies under the Species at Risk Act.

Executive summary

The Greater Sage-Grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus is the largest of the North American indigenous grouse species and is a sagebrush obligate within the sagebrush range of southeastern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. This report deals with the C. u. urophasianus population that occupies habitat in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan at the northern fringe of the North American Greater Sage-Grouse range. In the U.S., C. urophasianus phaios was considered the western subspecies and C. urophasianus urophasianus the eastern subspecies, however using genetic and ecological data (Benedict et al. 2003), the Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the two Sage-Grouse subspecies would be considered one species (Centrocercus urophasianus) across its range. In Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and SARA still list the scientific name as Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus and the common name as Greater Sage-Grouse, urophasianus subspecies.

Greater Sage-Grouse (hereafter known as Sage-Grouse) are dependent on sagebrush for food and shelter, thus the silver sagebrush-grassland communities of the native Canadian prairie provide necessary habitat. Currently, Sage-Grouse inhabit approximately 6000 km2 of sagebrush range in the two provinces. Both the range and size of Sage-Grouse populations have declined considerably in all parts of their North American range.

Threats to Sage-Grouse populations in prairie Canada include habitat loss and degradation (agriculture and industry), habitat fragmentation (agriculture, industry, utility, and transportation infrastructure), predation (low annual recruitment), altered landscape hydrology (altered food and habitat resources), diseases, direct mortality factors, and climate fluctuation (compounding effects). Recovery of Sage-Grouse populations is considered to be feasible because: a) the population currently remains unchanged at low levels with sufficient numbers of birds and active leks to produce offspring for population growth; b) there currently exists ‘source’ habitat that yields positive net production, and sub-optimal habitat that yields poorer recruitment but could be improved to produce net population gains; and c) mitigation and manipulation of land uses can minimize or eliminate threats to the birds and their habitat. Initiatives identified within this strategy will test and refine unproven techniques for development of landscape-scale best management practices for optimal Sage-Grouse production and maintenance.

The following goals focus on the elimination of further losses to population numbers and habitat, while striving to improve availability of quality habitat for population increases via short and long-term targets:

  • No loss of active Sage-Grouse leks or Sage-Grouse population numbers in any portion of the current Sage-Grouse range in Alberta and Saskatchewan,

  • By 2012, improve Sage-Grouse population status and productivity within Alberta and Saskatchewan so that all populations within the current range show a positive trend in the number of strutting males at leks and the number of active leks for the period 2000 to 2012, and,

  • By 2026, achieve a stable or increasing Sage-Grouse population with:
    1. ≥ 365 strutting males at leks in Alberta and ≥ 500 strutting males at leks in Saskatchewan, and
    2. ≥ 16 active leks in Alberta and ≥ 30 active leks in Saskatchewan.

Objectives include the following: monitoring populations to measure progress towards goals; ensuring habitat connectivity to preserve gene flow; determining causative factors for population declines and best management practices to enable recovery; identifying, protecting and enhancing key habitat; and integrating Sage-Grouse conservation activities with broader prairie grassland landscape-scale management and conservation initiatives. Comprehensive critical habitat for Sage-Grouse has not been identified in this document but a schedule of studies to identify partial critical habitat has been included.