Wyoming: The Sage Grouse Could Cripple the Economy

President Obama wants to double production of renewable energy by 2012, but a chicken-sized ground bird is tripping up progress. In the last century, the sage grouse—known for its iconic spiked tail -feathers—has been decimated by mining, ranching, and, most recently, the development of the rural West for wind farming. The bird won't mate near turbines, say biologists, and it's trapped on particular parcels of land by something of a mental block on crossing roads and under power lines. But since the grouse is concentrated in parts of the country's windiest states, an unusual green-vs.-green face-off is occurring, with the alternative-power lobby clashing with bird lovers like the Audubon Society.

Now the fight may be entering a new stage. The Department of the Interior has moved to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, casting doubt on wind development across the West. While specific restrictions won't be announced for at least a year, states are making preemptive changes to please the feds. Wyoming, one of the windiest states, has proposed writing off 3 million acres in hopes of boosting the bird's numbers, while Montana and Idaho are mulling similar measures. "The grouse," says Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, "has the potential to cripple our economy."