No sage grouse hunting in ND for 7th straight year
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — There will be no sage grouse hunting in North Dakota for a seventh straight year, after a spring survey indicated a record-low number of males, the state Game and Fish Department said.
The department's spring survey counted 31 males on six active strutting grounds, or leks, compared to 50 males on 11 active leks last year.
"South Dakota and eastern Montana witnessed a similar decline this year," Aaron Robinson, an upland game bird biologist for Game and Fish, said in a statement. "The last time we saw such a drastic decline in the region was because of West Nile virus in 2007-08. We may have had another outbreak in the region, but at this point it is only speculation."
Far southwestern North Dakota is on the edge of the sage grouse's historic range. The bird's population in that area peaked at 542 males in 1953, and has steadily declined in the past three decades. Sage grouse hunting was halted in the state in 2008 for the first time in nearly half a century.
Natural reproduction of the birds in North Dakota can't keep up with natural mortality, Robinson said. Finding another state willing to provide some birds for North Dakota might be the only answer.
"The success of such a project is not guaranteed, but it is our only option to increase the genetic diversity of our population," Robinson said.
However, the potential for a successful nesting season is good this year due to abundant grass cover after last summer's ample rainfall.
"We have learned from recent research in North Dakota that sage grouse rely heavily on residual grass cover for concealment during nesting season," Robinson said. "Without grass cover, mortality of females on nests increases and the probability that the nest will be depredated also increases. The outlook for a favorable hatch this year looks optimistic for the limited number of birds we have in the state."
Scientists say the sage grouse has lost half of its traditional range and also has been hit hard by West Nile. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined sage grouse deserved federal protection but that other species were of higher priority. The agency has pledged to make a final decision on listing the sage grouse by late 2015.