OUTDOORS -- As sage grouse have been strutting during the spring mating season, ranchers are working with state and federal officials to keep the prairie grouse from becoming the spotted owl of the West.
The iconic bird with the showy mating dance is experiencing population declines, and government land managers, with help from ranchers and conservation groups, are pouring tens of millions of dollars and rewriting dozens of management plans to protect habitat where the birds still thrive.
Click here to see a Great Falls Tribune story and videos about sage grouse efforts in Montana.
The goal of the sweeping plans, occurring on both private and public lands in 11 states, is to increase the population and avert the listing of the bird as a threatened and endangered species, which experts say would bring tougher restrictions on grazing and energy development.
"It would just have catastrophic impacts on our food and energy security, much of which comes out of the West," said Dave Naugle, a wildlife professor at the University of Montana who is serving as science adviser for the national sage grouse initiative headed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.