sage grouse

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.

The Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is getting started with a new study about sage grouse core areas. Matt Kauffman heads the group, and he joins us now to talk about the study. Matt, tell us what you’re trying to find out.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are offering a new incentive to get farmers and ranchers to protectcertain species – including sage grouse – on their properties.

Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman says they want ranchers to do things like shifting their grazing patterns, in order to preserve sage grouse habitat. If a rancher signs on, he or she would get certain protections, if sage grouse end up on the Endangered Species List.

Conservation groups are welcoming a federal report spelling out how sage grouse should be managed in 11 Western states to avoid new federal protections.
 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's draft report advises the states and federal land management agencies to act immediately to stop the loss of sage grouse habitat and populations.
 
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2010 that sage grouse deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency pledged to make a final listing decision by late 2015.
 

A new study has determined which areas within the Atlantic Rim oil and gas field near Rawlins are most important for sage grouse.

The study’s author, Chris Kirol, was a grad student in the University of Wyoming’s Department of Ecosystems Science and Management. He says they put radio collars on sage grouse to track which areas they liked and which areas they avoided.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking all Wyoming residents to report dead sage grouse they find so the birds can be tested for West Nile virus.

Sage grouse have low resistance to the disease and it usually kills infected birds.

Tom Christiansen with Game and Fish says there is no sign yet of an outbreak in the state this year.A recent limited survey in the Powder River Basin detected only low numbers of a particular type of mosquito known to carry the disease.

As we’ve just heard, there’s a lot of concern over declining sage grouse numbers. And a lot of effort is going into keeping the birds from being included on the endangered species list. Part of that effort involves studying which aspects of human activity are most problematic. A new study published in the journal Conservation Biology examines how human-made noise – particularly the noise associated with gas development – affects sage grouse. We’re joined now by Jessica Blickley, one of the authors of the report.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is planning to make most of northeast Wyoming off limits to sage grouse hunting. Tom Christiansen, the agency’s sage grouse coordinator, says that’s because of public concern about declining populations in the area.

“We do hear concerns about, ‘Well, why are you continuing to hunt when sage grouse populations, especially in some parts of the state, like northeast Wyoming, are declining and are proposed for listing?” Christiansen said.

A new report by researchers at the University of Montana warns that unless energy development slows down, sage grouse populations in the Powder River Basin could die out. The study, which was commissioned by the BLM, was meant to determine whether the sage grouse population there can survive, given current oil and gas drilling activities, and what would happen to the birds if more drilling occurred or if there were new West Nile Virus outbreaks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Dave Naugle, who co-authored the report. He says the sage grouse population in the Powder River Basin has already declined by 82 percent as a result of energy development.

A new report commissioned by the BLM warns that unless energy development in the Powder River Basin slows down, sage grouse populations there could die out.

Dave Naugle of the University of Montana co-authored the report. He says the sage grouse population in the Powder River Basin has already declined by 82 percent as a result of oil and gas drilling, and he says a disease outbreak similar to recent West Nile Virus occurrences could mean that fewer than 100 males would be left. That, Naugle says, “would functionally mean that that population could go extinct. ”

    As the Bureau of Land Management begins to offer greater protections for Sage Grouse, those in the conservation community are welcoming the news.  Steve Holmer with the American Bird Conservancy says with the Sage Grouse listed as a candidate for Endangered Species Act Protection the new approach is overdue.  

Holmer-"You know, I think to their credit, BLM is trying to get ahead of this issue. We’re pleased to see the BLM adopt this strategy – they’re on the right track."

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