In the last legislative session, lawmakers tasked the Wyoming Game and Fish Department with setting up guidelines for how private game bird farms can raise sage grouse. Under the rules, such farms could collect 250 sage grouse eggs to raise and release into the wild. The Sage Grouse Implementation Team appointed by Governor Matt Mead is reviewing those rules over the next couple of weeks.
The rules are an effort to rebuild the population since the bird narrowly escaped endangered species listing in 2015. Team Chair Bob Budd said the state may need innovative ideas to help bring those numbers up, not just for Wyoming's population but around the West.
“If you had the ability to produce viable birds that could go into states like the Dakotas and Washington where their numbers are considerably less than ours, there’s an upside to that, potentially.”
Budd said Wyoming prides itself on thinking outside the box.
“That’s how we do things in this state. We go in eyes wide open. We’re cautious but we’re not afraid to try something.”
Holly Copeland is president of the Wyoming Chapter of the Wildlife Society. She said the problem will be integrating farmed chicks with wild ones.
“The age of the chicks that you’re putting back into the nest [must] match the age of any chicks that are there. That’s a tricky thing to do,” Copeland said. “You have to know a lot about what’s going on, your timing, in order to do that.”
Copeland says another issue with sage grouse farming is it puts wildlife conservation in the hands of private business.
“We are concerned about the precedent it sets for commercialization of our wildlife,” she said. “So this appears to challenge that basic North American model that has guided wildlife conservation in the state of Wyoming.”
The new rules will be open for public comment in coming months.