Sage Grouse Season? [With decreasing numbers, why do we still have seasons?]

Question:

There aren't many sage grouse in Idaho anymore. They are decreasing in number year by year. Why still have a season on them? Same with pheasants. We need to start some farms for these birds.

Answer:

Here is some information on sage-grouse and hunting:

In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) concluded that listing the greater sage-grouse range-wide as a threatened or endangered species was warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions.  Therefore, sage-grouse are a “candidate” species and remain a state-managed species.  Thus, hunting a candidate species is still legal. 

When the USFWS evaluates a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered, they examine the best available data in relation to five factors.  These are:
• Factor A.  Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the habitat of the species.
• Factor B.  Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific or education purposes.
• Factor C.  Disease and predation.
• Factor D.  Inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
• Factor E.  Other natural or manmade factors.
 

The USFWS concluded that Factors A and D were significant threats to sage-grouse, resulting in their conclusion that listing was warranted.  Hunting falls within Factor B.  The USFWS concluded that,

“The present level of hunting mortality shows no signs of being a significant threat to the species.  However, in light of present and threatened habitat loss (Factor A) and other considerations (e.g., West Nile virus outbreaks in local populations), States and tribes will need to continue to carefully manage hunting mortality, including adjusting seasons and harvest levels, and imposing emergency closures if needed.” 

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) has been carefully reviewing and managing harvest of sage-grouse since 2008, when we began following the hunting season and bag-limit guidelines in the 2006 Conservation Plan for the Greater Sage-grouse in Idaho.  Each year IDFG evaluates population trends in 14 sage-grouse hunting zones and compares the data to these guidelines.  In addition, IDFG and 11 sage-grouse local working groups consider whether there are other issues of concern that may be currently impacting sage-grouse (for example, the current fire season and West Nile virus outbreaks).  The Commission sets the sage-grouse season in August after considering population trends, local issues, and public input. 

Since implementing these guidelines, annual harvest has decreased significantly.  In the past three years, harvest has averaged 2,900 sage-grouse per year.  Compare that to 1985–1995 when an estimated 37,500 sage-grouse were harvested annually in Idaho.  
IDFG’s sage-grouse hunting season process utilizes annual evaluations at the local level that considers circumstances that can change annually. 

It allows for hunting opportunity in areas of healthy sage-grouse populations, while also closing areas to hunting where population numbers are low or are impacted by large fires or other habitat issues.  This past year, the sage-grouse hunting season was limited to seven days in 12 of the 14 hunting zones, with 2 zones being closed to hunting. 

In the meantime, the state of Idaho, sage-grouse local working groups, and our federal partners continue to work cooperatively on sage-grouse habitat conservation issues throughout the state.  Projects such as re-seeding after wildfire, fire breaks, and weed control are critical for maintaining sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem.  For more information on sage-grouse and cooperative conservation, visit the sage-grouse pages on the IDFG website:
http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/wildlife/sageGrouse/