Legislature passes bill to allow sage grouse breeding in captivity
House Bill 271, Game bird farms – Greater sage grouse, passed during this session of the Wyoming Legislature. The bill would amend language in Wyoming Statutes to allow game bird farms to legally possess, propagate, breed, sell, raise and release Greater sage grouse.
Scott Smith, deputy director of external operations at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, noted that the bill was the biggest piece of legislation affecting sage grouse during the session.
“The legislation amends existing statutes on the books for game bird farming that specifically address raising sage grouse,” he said during the Feb. 27 meeting of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT). “It also lays out that the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission (WGFC) must establish rules and regulations that game bird farms have to operate under to raise sage grouse.”
Smith noted, “The bill had several amendments that worked through the body, and this is what was settled on.”
Bob Budd, chair of SGIT and executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, said, “When the bill was in committee, we worked on a number of things.”
He continued, “We encouraged the committee to change a lot of ‘mays’ to ‘shalls.’ For example, the Commission shall determine where collections can occur and how many.”
With strict regulations in place, Budd noted that sage grouse rearing is unlikely to be overwhelmingly prevalent.
“I don’t think anyone anticipates that we’ll have hundreds of sage grouse farms in the state,” Budd said, “but there are potential upsides for people.”
Inside the bill
According to the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO), the bill provides a process by which game bird farms can receive a certificate to raise Greater sage grouse and “specifies criteria which must be met to qualify for a certificate, including having successfully raised at least two other species of game birds from eggs or chicks and having an adequate enclosure and vegetation for sage grouse.”
Additionally, farms receiving certification must renew their licensure annually, after demonstrating that they meet the criteria.
“The bill authorizes gathering of sage grouse eggs under the supervision of a wildlife biologist and in coordination with WGFD,” LSO continues. “The bill provides limits on the number of eggs gathered, nesting sites disturbed and months in which eggs may be collected.”
Smith added, “The Legislature left quite a lot of discretion for the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on sage grouse rearing. There are a lot of things the Commission will need to decide.”
Rules and regulations that govern the collection of sage grouse eggs and more are required to be established by Sept. 1, 2017.
“The rules that would be implemented under this endeavor would include rules on collecting sage grouse eggs in the wild, bringing them back into captivity and rearing them,” he described.
A look back
Over the last five years, a handful of proponents have advocated for the ability to raise sage grouse in captivity, with the goal of supplementing naturally occurring populations.
“I think this idea got legs when a game bird farm operator who has a fairly good success rate said he was interested in seeing if it could be done,” Budd explained. “There are numerous people who backed the idea.”
In the past, the idea has always come through the Wyoming Legislature as a footnote or amendment to the budget bill, where it did not succeed, but Budd added that with the decision of whether or not to list the sage grouse as a big question in the past, the measure never passed.
“The bird not being listed has changed this,” he said. “Now, that the sage grouse is not listed as an endangered species, we’re willing to try to raise them in captivity.”
Other efforts to raise sage grouse in captivity have been undertaken at the Calgary Zoo, with various rates of success, but Budd commented, “Most of these efforts have been conducted by scientists and not game bird farmers. There’s a chance that farmers will do something different.”
While there are still a number of questions in place, such as how well the birds will survive after being reared in captivity and released, Budd commented that conversations will continue to take place.
“This will give us plenty to discuss moving forward,” he said.
Budd noted that the Commission will likely begin formulating rules at their next meeting, scheduled for March 23-24.
The bill was sponsored by Reps. Halverson, Eric Barlow, Landon Brown, Scott Clem, Roy Edwards, Lars Lone, Bunky Loucks, David Miller and Dan Zwonitzer,
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.