Tuesday, 01 July 2008 00:00

Sage Grouse Myths

Written by J. Wayne Burkhardt
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Excerpts from Range Magazine

Summer, 2008


Environmental activists and many agency biologists are working relentlessly to make the sage grouse the spotted owl of the Intermountain West. If they succeed in getting sage grouse listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), they will likely effect sweeping change over traditional land use in the West. That is their goal. Ironically, this “sage grouse conservation effort” is based on the fraudulent claim that many millions of these birds inhabited the sagebrush country of the West prior to European contact but this claim is without factual basis.


Sage grouse population trends closely parallel the trend in livestock grazing pressure. Historic journals and other records indicate relative scarcity of sage grouse in the Intermountain West during the early 1800s’ period, with apparently vast flocks of sage grouse from the 1870s to the 1960s. From the 1960s to the 1980s there was a major decline to the present population levels.


Another factor favoring sage grouse populations (although casually dismissed by environmentalists and biologists) would have been predator control employed in defense of livestock operations. Predator control has been part of range livestock operations from the beginning. What started as predator hunting and trapping by livestock people eventually grew into predator-control programs. Livestock boards, local game boards, county commissions, state and federal wildlife agencies all became involved in predator control. Bounties, poison baiting (1080), coyote-getters (M44s), and aircraft eventually became tools in the war on predators.  It hardly seems coincidental that there is a parallel between increasing sage grouse populations (1870s-1960s) and the growth of predator-control programs during this period. Certainly, predator control along with livestock-induced habitat changes would have favored sage grouse population irruptions. Even more notable, however, is the parallel decline during the 1960s and 1970s of both the predator-control programs and sage grouse populations. Environmental opposition to predator control resulted in removal of bounties, outlawing 1080 poison and M44s (1972) and a major cutback of federal and state wildlife agencies’ involvement in predator programs. In addition to the curtailment of predator-control programs, vast areas of sage grouse habitat became less productive, due in part to aging or decadent stands of sagebrush and rampant wildfires in winter habitat. All three of these have had a profound effect on grouse populations.


Editor’s note: Great article! Let’s compare the similarities in this article with the polar bear and the mule deer. If a bird, plant or animal is put on the Endangered Species List, the land where the species Is located is also lost. The listing of the polar bear was a bogus listing. Estimates of global population of polar bears reached as high as 27,000. However, the median population for a threatened species is only 4,000. The number of polar bears is the healthiest in decades. By listing the polar bear, the land was lost which meant no drilling for oil!

If the sage grouse were put on the Endangered Species list, the cattle will be removed from the land and that is what the antis’ want. This is what happened in southern Nevada when the desert tortoise was placed on the Endangered Species list. The article showed that when predator control was done, there were more sage grouse. This is the same scenario with mule deer. What does it take to wake up the people who have the authority to realize what is happening to our game and the use of the land? I will answer my own question. As long  as incompetent people are appointed to the Wildlife Commission and government employees get their pensions, nothing will change.

J. Wayne Burkhardt, Ph.D., is a range consultant and professor emeritus of range science, University of Nevada, Reno. He lives in Idaho but winters in Arizona.

Last modified on Sunday, 18 April 2010 11:06
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