Study Shows Breeding Sage Grouse Not Effective Approach

Aug 2, 2017

This young greater sage-grouse, along with the hen and other chicks, were drinking water and feeding on insects along the margin of one of Seedskadee NWRs developed wet meadows on a hot July day. This wet meadow and riparian habitat is found in limited supply in Wyoming, and much is located on private lands. It plays an important role in the annaul life cycle of greater sage-grouse.
Credit Tom Koerner/USFWS

A new report called “The Sage Grouse White Papers” released last month by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies shows that captive breeding methods have a long way to go before they can help bring up sage grouse numbers.

The Wyoming Legislature recently approved a project to allow private breeding of sage grouse chicks in hopes of building their population in Wyoming. The Association's San Stiver worked on the study and said Colorado, Idaho and Utah have tried captive breeding but found the eggs didn’t hatch well and not many of the chicks survived.

“The exceptions to that are birds that happen to be cross fostered into a wild hen's brood while they’re still young and impressionable -- two, three, four, five, six days old,” Stiver said. “Once they get older than that then they tend to disperse widely, they tend to have very high mortality.”

Stiver said sage grouse captive breeding efforts are in the early stages of development but could be useful down the road if the bird declines in numbers any further. It was considered for endangered species listing in 2015.

Stiver said releasing birds works best paired with other techniques. For example, he said, in Utah, “We went in and controlled the red foxes in number and we augmented that population with some additional birds and that particular combination of predator control along with augmentation seemed to work where we built that population back up.”

Stiver said killing predators like foxes and ravens isn't a quick fix either since they are immediately replaced by another predator, and the reason predators move in is because of human disturbance to the habitat.