G&F CLOSES SAGE GROUSE SEASON IN JOHNSON, SHERIDAN AND CAMPBELL
CHEYENNE – Concerns about the potential impact of West Nile virus on the
sage grouse population in northeast Wyoming have prompted the Game and
Fish Commission to close the 2003 hunting season for the species in
Johnson, Sheridan and Campbell counties.
Since August, the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory has diagnosed 11
sage grouse in the Spotted Horse and Gillette areas infected with the
virus. Because the infection is much higher in northeast Wyoming than the
rest of the state and the area is on the fringe of sage grouse range with
marginal, fragmented habitat, the G&F Department recommended closing the
“Northeast Wyoming has comparatively small sage grouse populations that
are semi-isolated,” said Tom Christiansen, G&F sage grouse biologist.
“When combined with all the other limiting factors these populations face,
we thought it was best to close the area to hunting as a precaution.”
All other areas originally open for hunting will remain open for the Sept.
27 – Oct. 5 season. The limit will continue to be two daily and four in
Christiansen added, “The discovery of the virus in sage grouse is not
surprising, but early indications suggest a higher mortality rate than has
been observed in other game birds.”
The infected birds in the Powder River Basin were part of a study being
conducted by the University of Montana and the Bureau of Land Management
researching the impacts of coalbed methane development on sage grouse.
Spring monitoring will determine if overall mortality was as high as
indicated by the birds in the study. If the counts do not show a
significant loss, the hunting season will likely be reopened in 2004 for
Since the virus was discovered in northeast Wyoming sage grouse, expanded
surveillance has also diagnosed one positive case each in Carbon, Fremont,
Park, Natrona and Sweetwater counties. Monitoring of over 100
radio-collared birds in studies near Lander, Pinedale and Kemmerer has not
detected any unusual mortality associated with West Nile virus.
Todd Cornish, veterinary pathologist for the Wyoming State Veterinary
Laboratory, re-emphasizes the long-standing advice to cook game meat,
including birds, thoroughly and to wear rubber gloves while cleaning all
game. He also recommends hunters discard all viscera.
“Although West Nile virus has heightened the publics’ awareness of avian
diseases, these have been standard recommendations to bird hunters for
many years,” Cornish said.
Hunters are also advised to wear long sleeves and insect repellent until a
hard freeze kills mosquitoes.
The G&F estimates that about 150 hunters bagged approximately 75 grouse in
Johnson, Campbell and Sheridan counties in 2002.
In the last 10 years, the G&F has also closed the Jackson area and the
extreme southeast corner of Wyoming to sage grouse hunting because these
populations are isolated and small.
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