Greater sage grouse numbers have been dropping for years in California. Scientists have concluded there are several reasons: land development, habitat loss, mining and climate change. It’s feared the bird’s population in the state could disappear.

According to the state’s Fish and Game Commission, as of two weeks ago, the bird is now protected under the California Endangered Species Act.

“They are very uncommon in California,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “They’re a barometer for the health of the Great Basin Desert.”

In 2022, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the protections, which were recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That was followed by the bird’s elevation to candidate species. The move isn’t permanent. The Department of Fish and Wildlife perform a scientific review and have a final recommendation in a year.

Greater sage grouse are known for their plumage and intricate mating dances. The bird calls two different parts of the state home. There’s a population in Lassen and Modoc counties, as well as along the California-Nevada border in Inyo and Mono counties. The latter group is genetically unique.

According to a state report, between 1999 and 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received three petitions to list the greater sage grouse habitat as endangered or threatened. A formal status review began in April 2004.

In 2005, the agency determined the species did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, in 2007, a federal court ruled that the finding was incorrect.

In the 2008 Center for Biological Diversity v. California Fish and Game Commission, an appeals court addressed whether or not a petitioned action should be accepted for consideration. Which resulted in the birds’ designation as a candidate. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the greater sage grouse was necessary but it was beat out by higher priority species.

In November 2022, the commission received the petition from the Center for Biological Diversity requesting that it list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered in California.