Greater sage grouse may soon be added to the threatened or endangered species list due to dwindling numbers across the West. While U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determines whether or not the birds need federal protection, eight states could continue to allow hunting for the birds anyway.
The greater sage grouse inhabit the sagebrush-covered landscape that spans 165 million acres across 11 western states; 64% of that land is federally-owned. Officials say that their population has declined from over a million in pre-settlement time to less than 500,000. Eight of the states – California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming – allow hunting of the greater sage grouse and Wyoming does plan to allow hunting again this fall.
“We’re just sticking to our state management at this point and moving forward with planning for a September hunting season,” Scott Smith, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Division deputy chief, told the Capital Press. “I guess we’re all waiting to see what the federal government comes up with as far as a listing decision.”
In 2010, USFW determined that federal protection of the bird was “warranted but precluded” by other more imperiled species and now has a court-ordered September 30 deadline to decide if the greater sage grouse does belong on the threatened or endangered species list, according to the Capital Press. Industries like cattle ranching, petroleum, and wind energy could also be affected by this decision because it would restrict development of large portions of the Western land.
USFW spokesman Theo Stein says that all the states that allow greater sage grouse hunting have short seasons and limit the number of birds per hunter. He adds, “The Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that hunting is a source of mortality for sage grouse. But we do not think it is a significant source of mortality at the species level.”
Predation and habitat loss are also major factors in the declining populations, which is why the first conservation bank was recently established in central Wyoming and will create a span of land for sage grouse, mule deer, and other wildlife while limiting energy development and other economic activities to other parts of the state.
It is possible that the agency could decide that the current efforts to protect the greater sage grouse are sufficient and that federal protection is not needed.