Idaho Receives Permit to Kill Ravens

Raven“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will conduct lethal control actions on ravens in three study areas in southern Idaho beginning this spring, and evaluate whether the removal improves sage-grouse populations,” a department press release says. Sage-grouse are a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, the press release notes.

A Reuters article that ran in the Chicago Tribune points out that the department has ranked predation 12th out of 19 causes of the sage grouse’s decline. The Reuters article also notes that because ravens are protected under federal law, the state needed, and received, a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Department for the lethal control study.

The Reuters article also notes that Nevada has already killed thousands of ravens in recent years in an attempt to save the sage grouse.

The Idaho press release says that raven populations have risen dramatically in the West. It also says that it will “work with landowners and land management agencies to implement non-lethal control of raven populations into the future. The goal will be to limit the ability of ravens to nest on artificial nesting structures, such as water towers, old buildings and transmission structures, and reducing or eliminating attractants such as dead livestock and garbage.”

Read the Idaho Department of Fish and Game press release here. It contains a link to a map of the study area.
Read the Reuters story in the Chicago Tribune here.

Photo: Raven, by Gary Stolz, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service


NPR on Sage Grouse Initiative

Sage Grouse vs transmission linesOn Wednesday, NPR had a piece on the Sage Grouse Initiative in Montana. There are photos and audio (or you can just read the article).

The initiative was started by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the piece says. It was joined by The Nature Conservancy, universities and state wildlife agencies. The initiative’s key tools seem to be portable electric fences, and widely distributed watering sites. That’s because having cattle graze intensely in small areas, leaving the grass in other areas to grow tall, as the sage grouse like it, is the goal of the program.

While sage grouse are found in only a few states, the effort to keep the species off the federal endangered species list should be of interest to all wildlife managers, particularly those managing other species at risk. At what point should we take action to keep a species from being listed? At what point does the species need to be listed so the protections of the Endangered Species Act can kick in and save it from extinction?

Stay tuned.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sage Grouse Under Fire

Sage Grouse vs transmission linesA US Fish and Wildlife Service report says that sage grouse are threatened by the loss and fragmentation of their sagebrush habitat. The habitat is being lost most commonly to wildfires which burn hotter because of invasive species. Ironically, another cause of habitat loss in the invasion of conifers into the sagebrush ecosystem, which is caused when fires don’t occur frequently enough.

A Wyoming Public Media report says that the USFWS report doesn’t tell people what to do, it just explains the threats.

A press release from the American Bird Conservancy says that the Bureau of Land Management should pay attention to the report.

You can find the 115-page report here.

In related news, the Idaho Statesman reports on an effort by a Nevada county on a local ranch to kill ravens with poison eggs and to reduce wildfires by increasing livestock grazing. The goal is to increase the number of sage grouse and stave off an endangered species listing.

The county does not expect support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the article reports, and has already drawn the ire of a regional environmental group. The article says:

“Their fixation on killing and poisoning native wildlife and turning lands back into a dustbowl is really twisted,” said Katie Fite, the biodiversity director for the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.



Lots o’ Legislation

Gray_wolfI know, you are trying to focus on science and have no interest in the political scene. And I know that lots of bills get passed, but few of them become laws. Every once in a while, it is worth mentioning the gears of law, though. In this case it is worth mentioning because both the Idaho and Utah legislatures were very busy in late February creating new laws about endangered species.

The Associated Press reported that a bill that passed the Idaho Senate “would make it against state policy for federal officials to introduce or reintroduce any threatened or endangered species in Idaho without state approval.”

But there’s not much more than that on the bill. Read it the brief piece on The Oregonian website, here.

Utah was extra busy. They’ve got three bills in the works. One House bill would, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, “allow county assessors to reduce a property’s tax burden if its value is impacted by designation as critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.”

Another House bill, “asks the federal government to not designate any private land in San Juan County as sage grouse habitat,” says the Salt Lake City Tribune. And a Senate bill which, “endorses Iron County taking over recovery of the Utah prairie dog” from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Utah legislature also put $300,000 in its budget to prevent the federal government from reintroducing the gray wolf into the state, another Salt Lake City Tribune article says. The article says that federal officials deny that any such reintroduction is planned.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article on the wolf payment here.

And props to Brian Maffly, the Salt Lake City Tribune reporter on both of those stories for making dull legislative news lively and easy to understand.

Photo: gray wolf by Gary Kramer, used courtesy USFWS

Prairie Chicken and Sage Grouse Reintroductions

Male greater prairie chickenGreater prairie chickens are booming again this spring in Wah-Kon-Tah Prairie, Missouri. The species had been extirpated from the area until five years ago when the Missouri Department of Conservation translocated some greater prairie chickens from Kansas.

State biologists studying the birds have learned a lot about their habitat needs and have been surprised by the interplay between the donor population back in Kansas and the newly-established Missouri population.

The restoration offers hope to other states and regions trying to restore the greater prairie chicken, which is an endangered species in Missouri, when there is limited habitat available.

Read more in the Missouri Department of Conservation press release, here.

In Alberta, Canada, a two-year project to relocate some 40 sage grouse from Montana appears to be successful, says an article in the Calgary Herald. Human development, including oil drilling, had nearly wiped the species out in the province. Last year, poor weather hurt the reproduction of the introduced birds, but this year biologists believe the birds are nesting.

Read more in the Calgary Herald.

The key word mentioned in both reintroduction stories: “hopeful.”

Photo: Male greater prairie chicken courtship display, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Wyoming Wins Praise on Sage Grouse Management

It’s pretty rare to see a newspaper editorial praising a state wildlife plan, so we wanted to make sure that you saw this one, in the Casper Star-Tribune earlier this week.

The editorial notes that the feds are pleased too, quoting Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar at the sage grouse summit in Cheyenne last week: “We see Wyoming as a template for how we address the challenges the sage grouse is facing.”

It also notes that pleasing the feds has some benefits. Wyoming has received $17 million in federal funding (through the US Dept. of Agriculture) to conserve critical sage grouse habitat.

Read the entire editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune, here.

See State Wildlife Research News’ previous coverage of Wyoming’s sage grouse management plan, here. It includes a link to more detail about the plan itself.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Revised: BLM Takes the Lead in Sage Grouse Management

Please note the revision to the earlier version of this post. Changes are in blue. 

About a month ago, according to the New York Times, top state wildlife agency officials in Nevada, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take the lead in coordinating efforts to conserve the remaining greater sage grouse population, since more than half of the greater sage grouse’s remaining habitat is on BLM land. (Read the NYT article here.)

At the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ summer conference earlier this month, BLM more or less agreed to that role, saying that, “In response to requests from state and local governments to facilitate ways to conserve greater sage-grouse and protect its habitat” it is putting together a strategy for greater sage grouse conservation that will emphasize partnerships and agreements between stakeholders. (Read the BLM announcement here.)

The BLM’s announcement breaks greater sage grouse habitat into two sections: an eastern section where the biggest threat is energy development (oil, gas and wind) and a western section where the greatest threats are invasive species (which other sources say is primarily cheatgrass), and wildfires. (Read the further info on the plan provided by BLM here.)

The NY Times article says that the BLM plan uses Wyoming’s “core area” strategy as its base. This strategy says that only five percent of the land can be developed within four miles of a known greater sage grouse lek (or breeding area). (Read Land Letter’s article on Wyoming’s “core area” strategy here.) And yes, that restricts development on some 15 million acres in Wyoming.

A BLM spokeswoman said that it is more accurate to say that the BLM plan is “informed” by the Wyoming plan. Different strategies will be put in place in different locations, depending on on-the-ground factors. She says that the strategy is a framework, not a document. The specifics are still evolving.

Read the articles, including this one in the Sacramento Bee, for more info on the greater sage grouse’s bid for listing under the Endangered Species Act (it was deemed warranted but precluded, which is now known, confusingly, as being a “candidate” species) and how the continued threat of its listing is driving this conservation activity.

Check out these articles from WyoFile, which give a lot more detail than was available when we first posted this news:
An article about Wyoming’s management plan.
An article about whether or not sage grouse will be listed as endangered species.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.