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SAGE GROUSE CAPTURE THE ATTENTION OF MANY


A study to determine the impacts of grazing on sage grouse is now under way in northern Nevada. The Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho State University, and Boise State University are cooperating on the study to determine the impact of different grazing practices on plants and wild animals.

The sage grouse segment of the study is a segment of a larger “Holistic Resource Management Team” project, which is being conducted near the Snake Mountains north of Well. The project involves capturing birds and gaining as much information as possible about their nesting, breeding, wintering and feeding areas to better understand the birds’ habits and habitat needs.

As of mid- April 2003, seven separate peititions to list various populations of sage grouse had been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On two of those petitions, one for the Washington population of the Western Sage Grouse, and another for Gunnison Sage Grouse, the USFWS designated the sage grouse as candidate species. (Neither of these populations occur in Nevada.) Candidate species are plants and animals for which the USFWS has sufficient information to propose them as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but for which development of a listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listing activities. Of the other five petitions, one was found to not warrant an emergency listing, another was was found to have insubstantial information for listing. On the last two petitions received the USFWS has determined that there are insufficient funds to initiate a 90-day review.

Because of the interest in nesting habits, sage grouse hens are the primary target of the capture effort. Eight females have been captured and fitted with satellite transmitter collars. These satellite transmitters send messages to orbiting satellites many miles above the earth. The satellite then sends the information to a data processing center in Maryland and the location of each bird is sent to researchers by e-mail. Eight to 10 other females will receive a conventional VHF radio transmitter, allowing researchers to track their movements either from the ground or with aircraft. Male and female birds are identified with a Department of Wildlife leg band in the hope that any hunter who bags one of these birds will return the band number to NDOW so that location and age data can be collected.

To capture the sage grouse, a team of three people walk together at night, one holding a spotlight and a boom box, the other two holding large dip nets. When the shiny reflection of a sage grouse eye is spotted, the music or noised from the boom box is quickly switched on and the spotlight is held with a slight vibrating motion. As the bird is approached, the combination of bright light and loud noise is intended to confuse the bird long enough to allow the netters to catch the bird. About half the time, the trappers are frustrated, as the bird outsmarts them and flies away before the net falls.

Satellite telemetry is an effective way to uncover the mysteries of wildlife movements, and this study, will reveal more information on the daily and seasonal movements of sage grouse. Researchers plan to use the telemetry study to help them locate hens during the nesting season to determine what predators are preying on eggs and chicks. In addition to information on nesting sites, researchers will try to determine whether sage grouse prefer grazed or ungrazed areas. They will also study the birds’ response to cattle being moved from one area to another.
 

 

 

 

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