Raising sage grouse: Rules in development to allow sage grouse breeding
During the 2017 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature, the body passed a bill to allow captive breeding of sage grouse.
Diemer True, owner of Diamond Land & Livestock and a recently appointed member of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT), supported the bill through the process, explaining that he hopes it will be a positive effort for everyone involved.
“The listing of sage grouse as endangered would have such an enormous negative impact on the state’s economy,” True comments. “This bill and the ability to raise sage grouse in captivity provides another arrow in our quiver to protect against potential listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.”
The idea of raising sage grouse in captivity isn’t new. There have been efforts over the past several years to allow captive raising of sage grouse, but each year, those efforts have been thwarted in the Wyoming Legislature.
“There are three big differences between what passed this year and what has been proposed in the past,” True explains.
First, in the past, the ability to raise grouse has been attempted through footnotes in appropriations bills.
“Kit Jennings put a footnote in the appropriations bill several years ago mandating the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to implement rules,” True says. “There was no deadline and no requirements. It wasn’t legislation, and it wasn’t fully debated.”
Secondly, True notes that the timing of this effort was more appropriate.
“In 2008, we were beginning to take a habitat approach to preserve the sage grouse,” he says. “If a pilot project worked to breed sage grouse, there was a concern that habitat efforts would be abandoned. The state of Wyoming and WGFD had an enormous commitment to habitat improvement, so the effort was delayed.”
Finally, the original efforts had an appropriation attached.
“There is no money attached to this effort,” True says.
He also notes that research is much more robust today, allowing increased potential for success.
“Steve Harshman, who is speaker of the House, has a passion for the potential of captive raising of sage grouse,” True says. “He has tried to incentivize private outfits to raise sage grouse.”
He continues, “Steve and I have talked very casually at football games about raising sage grouse in captivity. When he was re-elected, I said, ‘Let’s stop looking at an appropriation for raising sage grouse in captivity. Let’s look at using private enterprise.’”
The bill that passed during the session allows private game bird farms to raise sage grouse under strict stipulations.
“The bill expires on Jan. 20, 2022, so we only have a five-year window to raise sage grouse,” True explains. “There is no appropriation attached to the bill.”
The legislation allows qualifying bird farms to apply to WGFD to obtain a license under which up to 250 sage grouse eggs can be collected, incubated, hatched and raised.
For True, his interest in sage grouse comes from his interest in game birds in general.
“I enjoy bird hunting, and I really enjoy training dogs,” he says. “I’ve been buying birds from a game bird farm in Powell. When that farm was going out of business, I bought it. The owner, Karl Bear, stayed on to managed the farm.”
Bear has seen success in raising a variety of game birds for many years, including pheasants, chukars and Hungarian partridges, and he believes that he will be able to successful raise sage grouse.
Raising sage grouse in captivity has been met with varying degrees of success. While the Calgary Zoo recently experienced defeat, Colorado State University’s Tony Apa and the University of Wyoming have successfully raised sage grouse in the past.
“Karl has been in contact with the Calgary Zoo, and he’ll be flying up to visit with them about the reasons why they failed,” True explains. “He’s also going to meet with a bird farm owner in Idaho named Dan Snyder. Dan has raised exotic-type grouse for many years.”
He emphasizes, “We’re focusing on collaboration and working together to successful raise grouse.”
Raising sage grouse
True notes it is uncertain whether or not they will apply for a license to raise sage grouse, and much more research needs to be conducted.
“Karl is quite certain that he can get the birds to seven weeks of age, but raising sage grouse beyond that point is likely to be more challenging,” True comments.
Raising 250 eggs isn’t a challenge, he continues, as the farm is accustoming to raising between 30,000 and 70,000 birds per year.
“Right now, we’re not sure how to feed sage grouse, but there’s a lot of literature about what they eat at different stages in their lives,” he says. “We’ll have a plan, though, if we decide to try raising sage grouse.”
At the same time, True emphasizes, “We’re going to be very, very aware of observing what works and what does not work in raising sage grouse. We want to do everything we can to be successful.”
“Our intention is to apply for a license,” True adds, “but if we find a fatal flaw in our analysis, we’re not going to go full steam ahead. We’re not going into this blindly.”
Purpose of grouse
If efforts to raise sage grouse in captivity are successful, True says, “This is not a silver bullet.”
He notes that there are many questions remain, including how many breeding pairs constitutes a viable population and more.
Birds raised in captivity may be utilized in many different ways.
“We could use these birds for research, moving out of the lab and into the field,” True says. “Applied research is so different than lab work.”
Secondly, the birds could be used to stock areas of critical habitat that currently do not have sage grouse population.
Birds could also be used for hunting, since sage grouse hunting seasons still exist in Wyoming.
“Birds could also be distributed into the wild as a mitigation factor for industrial development,” True adds.
Moving forward, rules are in development and will be out for public comment soon.
“We hope this is a net positive,” True says. “We want to create one more arrow in our quiver for sage grouse.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.