sage grouse

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department says that Sage grouse chick production was unusually high this year.

The agency has discovered that grouse hens had more chicks this year than usual, over two per hen.  That’s over double from last year.

Chief Game Warden Brian Nesnik says hunters submit wings of grouse they harvest to the department for analysis.  That’s how they determine what is happening with the bird.

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Wednesday is the deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether or not to list the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a sub-species that’s struggling in Colorado and Utah, under the Endangered Species Act.

Melodie Edwards

Last week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was in Pinedale, taking part in a ceremony to sign up Wyoming ranchers to help protect sage grouse. These conservation agreements are called Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances or CCAA’s. They’re supposed to protect the birds on private lands, but as Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards reports, some wildlife advocates question whether the program really has the teeth to make a difference.

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, praised sage grouse conservation efforts in Wyoming during a tour of a ranch outside of Pinedale on Wednesday. The Bousman Ranch is one of nine in Wyoming that have agreed to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service on sage grouse conservation. During the tour Secretary Jewell learned about the ranch’s new strategies for protecting the grouse, such as converting windmill water tanks to solar to eliminate perches for the grouse’s predators like hawks and ravens.

Next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will decide whether or not to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species, and a new scorecard released by a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups says the Bureau of Land Management’s new Lander Resource Plan has failed to do enough to keep the bird off that list.

Policy Advisor Steven Holmer is with the American Bird Conservancy, one of six groups behind the new scorecard. He says a team of national scientists was tasked with setting standards for the best way to protect the grouse.

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The energy industry lobbying organization Western Energy Alliance has begun an ad campaign to highlight the dangers of listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species. 

The campaign includes radio and online advertisements that focus on the potential impacts that federal management of the sage grouse presents to Wyoming industry, agriculture, and tourism.

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Wyoming's top 131 most vulnerable species are identified in a new study put together by the Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Game and Fish and the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database. Senior Zoologist Doug Keinath with the Diversity Database says the goal of the study was not to place blame, but instead to give the state a heads up before certain species require emergency rescue measures, the way the greater sage grouse has. 

He says the state should keep an especially close eye on amphibians.

The Western Energy Alliance released a report this week on sage grouse protection measures used by the oil and gas industry. Though the report claims that the industry is doing enough to protect grouse, a local conservationist disagrees.

Erik Molvar is a biologist and campaign director with WildEarth Guardians. He says that the Bureau of Land Management’s own research disputes the WEA findings.

With winds and low precipitation causing fire danger to escalate in rangelands around the state, the Bureau of Land Management is keeping a close eye on sage grouse habitat. Senior Resource Advisor Pam Murdock says they’re working hard to control the fires.

"I know that there are a few going on currently," she says. "We have one, I was just informed of yesterday, that did get ignited over the weekend that was in sage grouse core area up in the Bighorn Basin."

She says it isn't easy juggling conflicting priorities. 

Cynthia Lummis

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations has approved a budget for the Interior and Environment for 2015, and Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis says, if passed into law, the bill would have a huge impact on Western states like Wyoming. 

The clock is ticking about whether to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species.  Such a listing could all but shut down mineral development in the bird’s habitat.  The state has already tackled sage grouse protections.  Now it’s the federal government’s turn.  It’s been 30 years since the Lander Resource Management Plan was revised.  And so the Bureau of Land Management took the opportunity to put more protections in place for the grouse while they were at it. 

The Lander Resource Management Plan is hundreds of pages and covers a lot of ground. 

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new plan for land use in the Wind River Basin today/Thursday, which supporters say balances the needs of industry, conservation, and recreation.

The new Resource Management Plan is the result of a cooperative process involving federal, state, and local agencies as well as land owners and recreation enthusiasts.

Wyoming representative for The Wilderness Society, Dan Smitherman, says that the plan’s release does not mean that the conversation about how best to use these lands is over.

A 5000-well oil and gas project proposed for the Powder River Basin is drawing sharp criticism from a wildlife advocacy group.  Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians says the drilling would take place right in the middle of critical sage grouse habitat.

“Well, the 5000 wells are projected in an area of over a million acres to the north of Douglas, stretching all the way up in the Thunder Basin National Grassland and including several core areas that have been proposed priority habitat for sage grouse,” Molvar says.

Sage grouse in Wyoming could get new protections, if a Bureau of Land Management plan is adopted.

The agency is proposing to cap the amount of disturbance that can happen on public land where the bird lives, and to impose other rules designed to protect sage grouse habitat.

The BLM’s Lisa Solberg Schwab says part of their plan involves adopting the core area strategy that Wyoming has already established.

Willow Belden

When energy development happens on public lands, companies have to reclaim the land. That means restoring the landscape after it’s been disturbed. But exactly what’s required varies from one part of the state to another. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports that agencies are making those rules more consistent, in hopes of helping keep sage grouse off the endangered species list.

The federal government released a new plan for managing sage grouse habitat in Wyoming on Friday. The Bureau of Land Management says the plan will allow for consistent policies across federal and state lands, while protecting the bird from an endangered species listing.

A new report questions the assumption that sage grouse dislike tall things.

It’s often assumed that the birds avoid tall structures, such as electrical poles or wind turbines, because they fear that predators could perch on top. But report co-author Karl Kosciuch says that’s not necessarily true. His team reviewed the existing scientific literature about how the birds respond to development, and they found no evidence one way or the other.

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A deal to allow oil and gas development in a sage grouse conservation area near Douglas met considerable resistance when it was announced last month. Environmental groups said it set a dangerous precedent, and showed the state isn’t serious about keeping the bird off the endangered species list. The state said it was a necessary compromise that protects sage grouse while respecting private mineral rights.

Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce takes a look at tensions in the state’s sage grouse conservation strategy, five years after its implementation.

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After what the state characterized as a knock-down, drag-out fight with Chesapeake Oil, it’s planning to allow drilling in a sage grouse conservation area.

The protected areas were established by executive order in 2011 in order to conserve critical sage grouse habitat, with the goal of keeping the bird off the endangered species list. The new plan modifies the protections in an area near Douglas where Chesapeake has oil and gas leases. 

The Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo office is hoping to ensure more rigorous protections for sage grouse in the area. It’s drafted a new Resource Management Plan – or land use plan – to replace the one that’s been in place since the 1980s.

The plan outlines four alternatives. Thomas Bills with the BLM says the agency’s preferred alternative would incorporate the governor’s Core Area strategy, which limits development in prime sage grouse breeding areas.

One of the main things that threatens sage grouse is human development and fragmentation of their habitat. But another big worry is West Nile Virus.

The disease is carried by mosquitoes, and researchers are now testing a new method for keeping mosquitoes in check. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Brad Fedy, who’s leading the project. He says West Nile Virus is a major concern for sage grouse.

Researchers are testing a new method to keep mosquitoes under control, in order to reduce the risk of sage grouse contracting West Nile Virus.

They’re introducing non-invasive fat-head minnows into stock ponds in northeastern Wyoming, because the fish like to eat mosquito larvae.

Brad Fedy is leading the project. He says fish may turn out to be a better solution than traditional larvicides, because you’d only have to introduce them once, rather than spraying an area annually.

Last year, we reported on a new project to restore sage grouse habitat that’s been disturbed by energy development in the Powder River Basin. The Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies are participating in the effort.

A project to restore sage grouse habitat in the Powder River Basin is moving forward.

The Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies are participating. Their goal is to focus on areas with abandoned gas wells and make those areas hospitable for sage grouse again, by planting sage brush and removing roads and power lines.

The BLM’s Bill Ostheimer says many landowners and local groups have been receptive to the idea. But he says it could be years before sage grouse move back into areas they were displaced from.

Study examines sage grouse requirements in winter

May 29, 2013

A study by the Wyoming chapter of the Wildlife Society found that sage grouse don’t do well if there’s human activity near their winter habitats.

The group’s president, Tony Mong, says it’s well known that sage grouse avoid things like oil and gas wells, but they now know that the birds are also sensitive to people doing things nearby.

He says that knowledge should guide the energy industry’s activities in sage grouse areas.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey documents how much human disturbance sage grouse can tolerate, and report co-author Steve Knick says the amount is very low.

He says most active leks, or breeding grounds, are in areas where less than three-percent of the land is developed.

Knick says the study shows that Wyoming is on the right track with its core area policy.

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey looks at the ecological conditions that sage grouse need in order to survive, and the amount of human disturbance they can tolerate. We’re joined now by Steve Knick, one of the report’s authors. He says the goal was to determine the basic requirements that sage grouse have.

Click here to view the full report.

New report seeks to help states protect sage grouse

Mar 29, 2013

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report that’s meant to help states figure out how to protect sage grouse and keep them off the endangered species list. 

Bob Budd with the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust helped put the report together. He says the document provides information about the key threats to sage grouse, but leaves it up to states to develop or revise their conservation plans.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a new plan that would give farmers and ranchers certain legal protections, if they undertake sage-grouse conservation efforts. 

The plan is called the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, or CCAA. It encourages farmers and ranchers to protect the sage-grouse on their property by shifting cattle away from nesting areas and taking other conservation measures. In return, they would get a commitment that they won’t have to do anything more should the bird become officially endangered.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming conducting a study to figure out whether sage grouse core areas provide benefits to other species.

The group’s Matt Kauffman says it’s commonly assumed that the answer is yes.

“This is part of what ecologists call the umbrella species concept – that by protecting one species you can protect other species that use a similar habitat,” Kauffman said.

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