Grouse

Grouse is a show about the most controversial bird in the West and what it can teach us about hope, compromise and life in rural America.

Hosted by Ashley Ahearn, Grouse is an eight-part podcast series produced in partnership with BirdNote Presents and distributed in collaboration with Boise State Public Radio.

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Ashley Ahearn

In the final episode of Grouse, Ashley returns to a lek in Washington with biologist Michael Schroeder and finds it scorched by recent wildfire. Michael cries as he looks out over an area that was once home to one of the largest remaining pockets of sage-grouse in the state. But he says he’s not ready to retire yet — there’s more work to be done.

We’re all looking for hope right now, but what we really need is the courage to keep fighting, loving and dancing, as the sage-grouse have shown us. We may not save this bird, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cherish it and do our small part — whatever that may be — to try to keep these birds around.


Ashley Ahearn

In 2015 the Obama Administration hammered out a deal with leaders and land managers across the west that avoided listing the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

It was a grand compromise that protected key sage-grouse habitat while allowing for continued access to sagebrush country for a diverse set of stakeholders — from ranchers to oil and gas to recreational users. There were pats on the back and photo ops with folks in cowboy hats next to folks in Patagonia.

And yet sage-grouse populations are still declining. Compromise may make us humans feel good, but does the sage-grouse have time for it?


Ashley Ahearn

Western Wyoming is home to many sage-grouse mating and nesting sites. And, in recent years, it’s also become a hub of oil and gas extraction.

Ashley Ahearn heads to oil and gas country to visit a lek with Matt Holloran, who did his PhD on sage-grouse and how natural gas drilling affects them. She also interviews Paul Ulrich, VP of Jonah Energy, who says there’s “more work to be done” and it will involve bringing people together to look for shared solutions to keep sage-grouse around.


Ashley Ahearn

The sage-grouse plays a big role in the cultural history of several western American Indian Nations. Wilson Wewa, an elder of the Northern Paiute of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, still remembers the first time he saw a sage-grouse lek while gathering medicine with his grandfather.

Wilson shares a story from the Wasco Nation about a grieving woman who finds solace among the sage hens. We are losing these birds, Wilson says, but they provide important lessons about hope and joy in a world that is short on both.

Ashley Ahearn

There are a lot of people who say cows are one of the biggest problems in the West — and are making life a whole heck of a lot harder for sage grouse. But cows are also a symbol of a way of life that many in sagebrush country feel is under attack.

Can we have beef and sage grouse? We meet scientists trying to answer this question — and a rancher in Idaho who grazes his cows in sage grouse country, and is finding ways to make it work.


Episode 3: Streamers

Sep 22, 2020
Ashley Ahearn

As the climate warms and invasive cheatgrass moves in, thousands of acres of sagebursh are burning across the West each year. And sage grouse are feeling the heat too, as the ecosystem shift destroys their habitat.

Caleb McAdoo is a biologist with Nevada Fish and Game. He's lived in sagebrush country his whole life — he loves this landscape — and now, he's watching it disappear before his eyes. What can we learn from wildfire?


Ashley Ahearn

Join Ashley on a frigid trek through the snow in search of sage grouse with a scientist who has been studying the bird for decades. Michael Schroeder takes us on a journey through the frozen sagebrush and back in time to learn some scientific and cultural lore surrounding this bird. Will we find any birds today? Why are they in so much trouble? Should anyone care?


Ashley Ahearn

A few years ago, Ashley Ahearn burned out on the urban rat race, quit her job at a top NPR member station in Seattle, and moved to 20 acres of big sky and sagebrush in rural Washington state to try to better understand this country, and do better journalism in the process. And, along the way, she got curious about a weird, troubled bird known as the Greater Sage-Grouse, that is native to the sagebrush ecosystem — and fits in a whole lot better there than she does. What the heck is a sage grouse and why does everyone get so worked up about this bird?