The Calgary Zoo is set to launch a captive breeding program for the critically endangered greater sage grouse now that the provincial and federal governments have committed to help fund the 10-year project.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and Environment Canada announced Thursday they will each put $2.1 million towards the $5.3-million effort to save the greater sage grouse — one of the most endangered birds in Canada.

The zoo will raise the remaining $1.1 million from the community. Its centre for conservation research will oversee the project.

“For several decades, the Calgary Zoo has played a key role in Canada and globally saving species considered at risk. We are very pleased to be leading the sage grouse project with the financial support of our provincial and federal governments,” said zoo president Clément Lanthier in a release.

“Our Government’s partnership with the Calgary Zoo in a captive breeding and reintroduction program is an important step to recovering the greater sage grouse in Canada. Our long-term goal is to establish a stable greater sage grouse population in Canada through stewardship initiatives and partnerships”, said Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq in the release.

In Canada, the greater sage-grouse is found only in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. It’s estimated there are only 93 to 138 of the birds left in the country. Only 13 males were found in Alberta in 2011 and 2012.

Emergency order challenged

Habitat loss, drought, the West Nile virus, predation pressure and chronic noise have all taken a toll on the fragile population, the zoo said. 

Last year, Ottawa announced an emergency order to protect the greater sage grouse, the first time the government has issued an emergency order under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA).

The order was recently challenged by the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil & Gas Inc., which filed an application in Federal Court seeking a judicial review. 

Coun. Bill Cocks, the chair of Medicine Hat's energy committee, insists the city already goes to great lengths to protect the endangered species. 

The order forbids the construction of new roads, tall fences or high objects and restricts loud noises during certain times of year — which would restrict oil and gas production.

Cocks says the goal of the court action is to buy the city time to negotiate with the federal government.