Idaho Fish and Game says it will allow hunters to shoot sage grouse next month, despite a multi-state effort to boost the bird’s numbers.
A study this spring reports sage grouse are declining across the West, by as much as 56 percent over a six-year period. Idaho and other states are working collaboratively with federal and private partners to protect the birds' habitat. September is the deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
So why has Idaho approved a hunting season for them?
Ann Moser is a wildlife staff biologist for Idaho Fish and Game’s sage grouse program.
She says there are some areas in the region with strong populations of the birds, and some that have much weaker populations. These troubled areas include southeast Idaho, as well as Washington, Adams, and Elmore counties. Moser says the troubled areas primarily deal with habitat issues.
“And those are areas that have been impacted by wildfire, have large-scale infrastructure projects, like, in Wyoming, oil and gas development is an issue,” says Moser. “There are other things going on in the environment, and hunting is a very small, tiny impact to the population, compared to all the other things that are going on with sage grouse.”
She says in areas of concern, no hunting of the birds is allowed.
“Because there are other issues going on with those populations, we don’t put added pressure on those birds with hunting. But most of the sage grouse range in Idaho is doing pretty well.”
That range includes a large chunk of southern Idaho, where the birds are stable or increasing. That is where Fish and Game will run a seven-day sage grouse hunting season in September. Hunters can only take one bird each day. Fish and Game says a carefully regulated hunt is not a primary threat to those populations.
Moser says historically it was a very popular hunt with families. But the hunt has slowed, as the season was shortened and concern over the birds rose. The last four years, they’ve averaged about 2,400 hunted birds a year. Moser says that’s a very small portion of the population.
The hunt is scheduled for September 19 - 25.
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