Threatened and Endangered Species - Status Reports
Date Published: August 2017
Number of Pages: 22
Author(s): Derek W. Stinson
The Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus), the rarest of six extant subspecies of Sharp-tailed Grouse, was the most abundant and important game bird in eastern Washington during the 1800's. However, numbers declined dramatically with the conversion of large areas of Palouse prairie, the Klickitat region, and arable shrub-steppe to cropland. The statewide population continued to decline through the 20th century. The Sharp-tailed Grouse was listed as a state threatened species by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 1998.
Sharp-tailed Grouse persist in eight scattered populations in Lincoln, Douglas, and Okanogan counties, and the Colville Indian Reservation. Declines of some remnant populations have continued due to degradation of habitat, isolation, and possibly declining genetic health. At least one local population (Horse Springs Coulee) has gone extinct since 2000. The statewide population estimate increased partly in response to translocations and habitat restoration from 665 in 2004 to 894 in 2015, but after the 2015 fires, dropped to 564 in 2017.
Habitat quantity, quality, and fragmentation limit the populations. Good Sharp-tailed Grouse nesting habitat contains a mix of perennial bunchgrasses, forbs, and a few shrubs, and critical winter habitats are riparian areas with deciduous trees and shrubs that provide cover, berries, seeds, buds, and catkins. Historically, the highest densities of Sharp-tailed Grouse were in mesic grassland and steppe types where annual precipitation averaged at least 11 inches annually. Most of these areas are now in cropland, and many areas that were not converted to cropland have shallow soils or steep slopes, factors that negatively affect productivity for Sharp-tailed Grouse.
Much of the landscape that was the historical range of Sharp-tailed Grouse in Washington, including lands between the existing populations, is now privately owned cropland, orchard, or rangeland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides a financial incentive for private landowners to establish and maintain perennial vegetation. State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), an initiative under the CRP program with stricter planting requirements, may boost grouse populations; >70,000 ac have been enrolled since 2010 for Greater Sage-grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse habitat in Douglas County. Land enrolled in SAFE are written up as 10 or 15 year contracts, with most landowners enrolling with 15 year contracts. However, CRP enrollment is voluntary, and re-enrollment is affected by commodity prices.
The species will be considered for down-listing from state threatened to sensitive status when Washington has at least one population averaging >2,000 birds and the statewide population averages >3,200 birds, for a 10-year period. Meeting recovery objectives will require improvements in habitat availability, quality, and connectivity, and expansion of occupied areas. The remaining populations in Washington are small, relatively isolated from one another, and will not persist unless they increase in size. Habitat restoration and enhancement and population augmentation using birds from other states are ongoing and have prevented extirpation of one subpopulation in Okanogan County, but additional areas need to be identified for future reintroductions and prioritized to help focus habitat restoration efforts.
Given the low statewide population and precarious status of local populations, it is recommended that the Sharp-tailed Grouse be retained on the state list of threatened species.
Stinson, D. W. 2017. Draft Periodic Status Review for the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in Washington. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington. 18+ iii pp.
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