OLYMPIA—For the third time in two years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has released sage grouse on public land in Lincoln County, in an effort to establish a third population of the state threatened species in Washington.
A total of 28 sage grouse—15 males and 13 females—were released March 28 and 29 on WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property south of Creston in Lincoln County. The birds were collected from healthy populations near Lakeview, Ore.
Before release each bird was fitted with radio-telemetry equipment to enable biologists to monitor their survival and movements, including whether they join birds that were previously released.
WDFW released 17 sage grouse last spring and 24 others last fall at the same location. WDFW Wildlife Biologist Howard Ferguson of Spokane reported some of those birds remained in the area and some were killed by predators, although post-release monitoring was hampered by defective radio transmitters. Three of the birds—one male and two females—had grouped near this year’s release site, which could help the birds form a lek site or breeding ground, Ferguson said.
The sage grouse reintroduction project is a joint effort involving WDFW, BLM, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, private volunteers and the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. A research project by Washington State University will begin this spring helping to study and monitor the birds.
There are two other populations of sage grouse in Washington. About 450 sage grouse are in shrub-steppe and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) habitat in Douglas County, mostly on private land. Another 190 birds inhabit shrub-steppe land on the federally managed Yakima Training Center in Kittitas and Yakima counties.
The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) was listed as a threatened species by Washington state in 1998. In 2001, the Washington population of the sage grouse also became a candidate for federal listing as a threatened species, under the federal Endangered Species Act.
WDFW Wildlife Biologist Derek Stinson said the reduction in the number and distribution of sage grouse in Washington is largely due to habitat loss and degradation.
In Washington, sage grouse historically ranged from the Columbia River to Oroville, and from the eastern Cascades foothills to the Spokane River. By the early 1900s, sage grouse had disappeared from much of that area. The population on the Fitzner and Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve at Hanford in Benton County was evidently lost after catastrophic wild fires in 1981 and 1984. The breeding population in Lincoln County was gone by 1985 because of habitat changes.
Sage-grouse have survived in parts of Douglas County that were not converted to agriculture, and on the Yakima Training Center, a military reservation where development did not occur, Stinson said.
The birds will be considered sufficiently recovered for removal from the state threatened species list once the average breeding-season population reaches 3,200 birds for a period of 10 years, and active breeding areas are established in six or more designated management units, Stinson said. Currently the state sage grouse population is estimated at 640 birds.
For more information on sage grouse in Washington, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildlife/management/birds.html#grouse.