Wildlife Managers Pin Hopes on Imported Sage Grouse
Sage grouse conservation crosses international boundaries as well as public and private lands. The Calgary News story below is related to a Sage Grouse Initiative success story on the website under Success Tracker: Conservation Easements and to a scientific article: Greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus migration links the USA and Canada: a biological basis for international prairie conservation.
CALGARY — Wildlife managers are hoping a mass relocation of dozens of sage grouse from Montana will pull the bird back from the brink of extinction in Alberta.
Last fall biologists estimated there were only 13 male birds left in the province.
The curious, chicken-sized creatures have suffered in the face of human development, including the encroachment of oil wells in the province’s southeast corner that has led to the dwindling number.
But a two-year project that saw the relocation of nearly 40 birds from the northern Montana prairie appears to have been successful, according to wildlife managers.
“The releases took place without any problems. To date, the birds there appear to be keying in on the habitat. Some birds also appear to be nesting,” Montana biologist Kelvin Johnson said. He co-ordinated the project on the United States’ side.
“Unlike last year, this year we had excellent weather and operating conditions, which allowed everything to go smoothly.”
Sage grouse numbers have remained steady and strong in the United States because officials there have protected key areas of the bird’s habitat.
In the past few weeks, a total of 37 female birds and three males were captured and relocated across the border.
The trapping involved locating birds while they frequented their breeding display areas, known as leks, before returning in the dark to capture them using nets.
Each of the birds has been outfitted with a GPS radio to allow biologists to follow them and determine their chances at survival and reproductive success.
In Canada, the sage grouse is classified as an endangered species and officials say their numbers in southeastern Alberta have declined by about 80 per cent since 1970.
Last fall, Alberta biologists were close to giving up on the bird, but Montana wildlife manager Pat Gunderson said he’s feeling hopeful.
“We feel that helping Alberta wildlife managers maintain their sage grouse population will help to keep the birds off the endangered species list in the United States by maintaining and hopefully expanding their overall range,” Gunderson said.
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