Feds Propose Sage Grouse Protection in Nevada, California

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Male sage grouse
  • Male sage grouse

While the federal government said it was still looking at extending endangered species status for sage grouse in Idaho, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Oct. 25 that is proposing ESA status for sage grouse living in Nevada and California. After a 60-day comment period, a final decision on the bird's status is expected to be announced in early 2014.

Meanwhile, the sage grouse hunting season recently closed in Idaho. In select areas of the Gem State, hunters were allowed to bag one bird per day and a total of two birds between Sept. 21-27.

According to a 2010 University of Idaho study, "determining exact population numbers is impossible, but biologists can monitor yearly population fluctuations. Monitoring occurs on spring mating grounds, known as leks. In 2008, 748 leks across Idaho were surveyed from the air and ground."

The sage grouse, sometimes called the “prairie chicken,” is known for an elaborate strutting dance the male birds perform when courting females. The species eats sagebrush, which is disappearing as its desert habitat is being developed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that only about 5,000 sage grouse are left in Nevada and California due to invasive species and energy development in the region.

Power lines and non-native pinyon pine and juniper trees introduced to the region have also given raptors, which eat the grouse, a better perch from which to pounce on their prey.

"It's not the 11th hour for sage grouse here, but it is maybe the 10th hour," said Fish and Wildlife Nevada Supervisor Ted Koch. "And that's good news. It means we have some time and space to turn things around."