Research develops new sage grouse strategiesBecause of a long-term population decline throughout their native range, in 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
By: Doug Leier, The Dickinson Press
Because of a long-term population decline throughout their native range, in 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Since sage grouse inhabit the extreme southwestern part of North Dakota, this development was of particular interest within the State Game and Fish Department. Listing under the ESA basically means the federal government, specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would assume primary sage grouse management instead of the states.
The USFWS determined that listing was warranted, but other species had a higher priority for federal recovery efforts. However, the FWS is scheduled to revisit sage grouse listing again in 2015, and at that time, one of the determining factors will be whether a regional sage grouse management plan is in place.
The effort to develop that plan is just getting started across the western United States, with public meetings in all states in the sage grouse range. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is leading the effort, because more than 50 percent of the nation’s sage grouse are found on BLM land. In North Dakota a majority of the state’s sage grouse, and the largest leks, are found within BLM land in Bowman County, according to Aaron Robinson, Game and Fish Department upland game biologist.
Robinson participated in North Dakota’s public meeting in Bowman in mid-January. He says the next step is for the states and federal agencies to work through the public comments and build them into a comprehensive range-wide management plan that provides for sage grouse conservation and protection by late 2014.
Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand says that while North Dakota is on the periphery of the sage grouse range and doesn’t have many of these native birds compared to states farther west, the state still has an important role in the long-term recovery plan. “Sage grouse have had a rough time the past decade or more, not just here, but in all the Western states where they exist,” Steinwand said “We’re committed to using whatever resources we can to help get those birds stabilized and headed in the other direction.”
In North Dakota, Steinwand added, a number of projects are already underway.
Highlights of Game and Fish involvement over the past several years include:
- Game and Fish has funded research over the past six years to determine species demographics such as survival, nest success, bird movements and reproduction success.
- Helped form a working group, in conjunction with a core group of local landowners, to provide information to agricultural producers about sage grouse conservation.
- Worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and BLM on extensive sagebrush plantings designed to connect fragmented areas and provide incentives to local landowners.
- Provided funding and piggybacked with federal programs to provide incentives for private landowners to implement grazing practices that increase residual grass cover that benefits sage grouse.
“We’re going to continue our efforts, in cooperation with other agencies and private landowners, to work on projects to benefit sage grouse,” Steinwand said. “It’s in the best interest of all the states in sage grouse range to keep these birds off the endangered species list.”
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: email@example.com Read his blog daily at dougleier.areavoices.com