Turkey might be on just about everyone’s mind this week as Thanksgiving comes around, but another feathered bird is also making headlines. Efforts to keep the greater sage-grouse off the endangered species list in 2015 could impact E&P activity in parts of the U.S.

The sagebrush-dependent, ground-dwelling birds—with males donning white ruffs around their necks and bright yellow air sacks on their breasts— breed in the western U.S. and in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The federal agency released a report last week that says at least a 5-km (3-mile) conservation buffer zone is needed between the bird’s breeding grounds and oil and gas activity.

Loss of sagebrush canopy or nest failure were listed among the direct impacts of energy development on sage-grouse habitats and populations estimated to have occurred within a 3-acre area of leks, or communal breeding locations, according to the report. The USGS added that indirect influences such as habitat degradation or utilization displacement have been estimated to extend to 19 km (11.8 miles) from the breeding locations.

The report also cited studies focusing on energy developments in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

“Regional analyses of well-density and distance effects suggested negative trends in populations [lek counts] when distance was less than 4 km [2.5 miles] to the nearest producing well; whereas density effects were evident rangewide based on decreasing population trends when greater than eight active wells occurred within 5 km [3.1 miles] of leks, or when more than 200 active wells occurred within 18 km [11 miles] of leks,” the USGS said in the report.

The USGS, however, noted that “understanding the effects of multiple human land uses on sage-grouse and their habitats is complicated by the combination of environmental, ecological and socioeconomic conditions across the species range, which includes parts of 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces in western North America.

“Responses of individual birds and populations, coupled with variability in land-use patterns and habitat conditions, add variation in research results,” it continued. “This variability presents a challenge for land managers and planners seeking to use research results to guide management and plan for sage-grouse conservation measures.”

The USGS report did not provide any recommendations, but rather provided summarized information and interpretation of findings by citing existing scientific literature. The report’s release came as several government agencies, among others, work to conserve the sagebrush habitiat for the bird whose population has been dropping as it loses habitat for a variety of reasons.

“A 3-mile buffer for the birds represents a much larger area than the no-occupancy zones where drilling and other activity is prohibited under some state and federal land management plans,” the Associated Press reported. “However, those plans also contain more nuanced provisions, which backers say will protect sage-grouse, such as seasonal restrictions on drilling or other activity and limits on the number of oil and gas wells within key sage-grouse habitat.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior said that current estimates show there are between 200,000 and 500,000 birds, down from modern estimates in the millions.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at vaddison@hartenergy.com.