Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Greater sage grouse sightings up in 2014 and 2015; bird being considered for 'endangered' status

The population of the greater sage grouse, a threatened species, appears to be on the rebound. Yet-to-be-published research compiled by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies says that western state biologists "spotted 80,284 male sage grouse across the West in 2015, a 40 percent jump over the 57,399 that were spotted in 2014 and 63 percent over the 49,397 that were spotted in 2013," Phil Taylor reports for Greenwire.

A study published in March by the University of Idaho, commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found the "number of breeding male grouse fell by more than half Westwide between 2007 and 2013," Taylor writes. Those kinds of numbers led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2014 to list the grouse as threatened, and the agency has until September to determine if any additional protections, such as being listed as endangered, should be added. In May, the Obama administration moved to limit petroleum drilling and other activities on some of the sage grouse's wide-ranging habitat in the American West to keep the species off the endangered list.

Despite the positive numbers in the new study, "sage grouse experts caution against drawing conclusions from the two-year spike, noting that sage grouse populations appear to fluctuate on roughly decade-long cycles and are influenced in the short term by precipitation," Taylor writes.

"Much of the recent surge was driven by Wyoming, which is home to roughly 40 percent of the grouse's rangewide population," Taylor writes. "The number of male birds counted in the Cowboy State was 18,238 in 2013, 20,050 in 2014 and 35,860 in 2015, according to state officials. Scientists checked about 1,600 leks, about 88 percent of the known occupied leks, in each of those years." Officials, who cited improved weather conditions for the increase in population, said Montana and Colorado also had significant increases in sage grouse sightings. (Read more)

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