The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public comments on a draft recovery plan for sage-grouse, which were listed by the state as a threatened species in 1998.
The draft recovery plan is now available for review on WDFW's website. Copies also can be obtained by calling the WDFW Wildlife Program at (360) 902-2515 or by sending an e-mail request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments on the draft plan are due by February 3 and should be sent to:
Endangered Species Section Manager
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way N.
Olympia WA 98501-1091
Once common to the shrub-steppe of eastern Washington, the state's sage-grouse population has declined dramatically in recent decades, said Harriet Allen, WDFW endangered species manager. According to a recent estimate, the population of sage-grouse in Washington numbers about 1,000 birds, a decline of nearly 80 percent since the 1960s.
In 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Washington sage-grouse population as a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"Sage-grouse face a number of challenges, here and throughout the western states," said Allen, who cited habitat loss, overgrazing, fires and the spread of cheatgrass and noxious weeds as some of the primary factors leading to their decline. Today, sage-grouse are found on only about 8 percent of their historic range in the state, she said.
The draft recovery plan summarizes what is known about the status and factors affecting the sage-grouse populations in Washington state and proposes various strategies for increasing their population and distribution.
Among planned strategies is to introduce more genetic diversity into the state's declining sage-grouse population by transplanting sage-grouse from other states into Washington, Allen said. The Yakama Nation is also studying the feasibility of re-introducing sage-grouse on its lands.
Several agencies and organizations - including WDFW, the Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management - have acquired land in recent years that may provide suitable habitat for sage-grouse, Allen said. These agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are giving greater attention to preventing and suppressing wildfires which can eliminate sagebrush, the birds' main food.
The U.S. Army also maintains steppe-shrub habitat for sage-grouse at the Yakima Training Center in Yakima County, which has a substantial portion of the state's current sage-grouse population. The Yakima Training Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WDFW are slowly restoring degraded or burned shrub-steppe habitat to maintain current populations and create areas where re-introductions may be possible in the future.
"A lot of people are concerned about the future of this once-common bird," Allen said. "The draft recovery plan is designed to help pull all those efforts together around a common strategy."