Dwindling numbers of eastern Washington sharp-tailed grouse have been boosted with birds recently relocated from more plentiful populations in Idaho and British Columbia.
Wildlife biologists hope the introduced grouse will help replenish Washington's population of the native birds, which are listed by the state for protection as a threatened species.
The joint effort by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Colville Confederated Tribes relocated a total of 60 birds. Of those, 40 were trapped in British Columbia and 20 in Idaho, said Wildlife Biologist Dave Hays, who managed the project for WDFW. The relocation released 20 birds on each of three sites-WDFW's Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County, WDFW's Wells Wildlife Area in Okanogan County, and the Colville Reservation near Nespelem in Okanogan County.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management also collaborated on the relocation effort.
WDFW's Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area Manager Juli Anderson, who helped trap, transport and release some of the birds, reported that the newcomers immediately joined existing birds on their "leks," spring mating-ritual grounds.
"We hope to restore this native species to one of the largest pieces of intact shrub-steppe habitat left in the state," Anderson said of the Swanson Lakes effort.
Sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) historically were found throughout most of the sagebrush, shrub and grass habitats of eastern Washington. Large-scale removal of native vegetation for agriculture and habitat impacts from intensive livestock grazing took their toll on all prairie grouse, including sage grouse which are also listed by the state as a threatened species. Both sharptail and sage grouse are also considered federal species of concern.
Recent field surveys indicated that a total of about 300 sharp-tailed grouse remain in small, isolated populations on remnant patches of habitat in Okanogan, Douglas and Lincoln counties.