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Natural Resources & Energy

Sage Grouse Populations Continue To Decline

A male sage grouse.
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sage grouse males return to the same lek year after year because it indicates good nesting ground.

This spring, Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists and trained volunteers headed out into the state's sagebrush seas to count the number of male sage grouse displaying at their traditional breeding grounds, known as leks. Because males return to the same lekking areas year after year, these annual counts give a good idea of how the population is doing. This year, the department reported lek attendance was down 13 percent since 2020.

This wasn't remarkably surprising to WGFD though, because sage grouse populations are cyclical, rising and falling over time. Wyoming's birds cycle every six to eight years, and they're right in the middle of a downward trend.

"Beyond just the cyclical pattern, we would be concerned if the lows get lower and the highs get lower in a stair step down fashion," said WGFD sagebrush and sage grouse biologist Leslie Schreiber.

According to Schreiber, hen to chick ratios for this last year were too low for population growth with an average of 1.1 chicks per hen. An average of 1.5 chicks per hen is required for growth.

"There were dry conditions in the state last year and dry conditions affect the availability of food and cover for sage grouse chicks," said Schreiber.

Hen to chick ratios are determined every year after sage grouse limited hunting seasons using wings voluntarily dropped by hunters at wing barrels.

"Each November, our biologists get together and look at the wings, and from the wings, we can tell based on feathers, molting patterns, and just feather characteristics, if the wing is from an adult or juvenile, and if it's from a male or a female," Schreiber said.

Most sage grouse hunting seasons opened Saturday and will continue through the end of the month. Schreiber added that she's gotten a lot of questions about hunting recently and said sage grouse hunting seasons are open to public comment during the season setting process in the winter and spring.

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