The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is once again on the lookout for West Nile virus in sage grouse. The department is asking Wyoming residents to report any dead sage grouse they find, so it can be tested through the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory.
Sage grouse are particularly vulnerable to the mosquito-borne disease and typically die from it. Hank Edwards, WGFD wildlife health laboratory supervisor, said you can’t prevent the virus from spreading, but it is important to monitor.
"And we want to keep an eye out if we have an outbreak of West Nile virus and how that might affect those populations," he said.
The last large-scale death of sage grouse from the virus in Wyoming was back in 2003 when it hit the Thunder Basin. Tom Christiansen, the WGFD's sage grouse program coordinator, said there’s no sign of an outbreak as of yet. But Edwards said it’s still important to maintain monitoring.
"We always do count on the public to… be our eyes out in the field. We have collected quite a few sage grouse in the past and we continue to ask the public for help in the future," Edwards said.
He added transmission of West Nile is unlikely from dealing with a dead sage grouse with gloves, but, even so, citizens should simply report the bird rather than handling it.
Christiansen warned this summer could bring more of the virus, with warm temperatures and higher precipitation levels — perfect conditions for mosquitos.