Captive sage grouse subject of debateWritten by Christy Hemken
In a background of the Wyoming legislation passed in 2008, Assistant Wildlife Division Chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Bill Rudd says the Chapter 60 Sage Grouse Bird Farm Regulations are different from the regulations offered in Chapter 40 that deal with all other game birds in Wyoming.
“The regulation proposes they must be physically separated from wild birds for disease concerns and the enclosures must include live sage brush and natural vegetation,” said Rudd. “The regulation for capture of native sage grouse does not propose to allow the importation of sage grouse, and capture provides for collection of 75 eggs for three consecutive years by game bird farms attempting to raise sage grouse.”
Not more than 10 nest sites would be disturbed, and egg collection could only take place April 25 through May 15, with the idea that’s early enough in the season for a sage grouse hen to establish another nest. “All the eggs must be taken from any individual nest, and they must be collected at the time of year when females may successfully reinitiate nesting,” outlined Rudd.
The regulation only allows for the release of sage grouse by game bird farms into areas not already occupied by sage grouse.
“Our group is adamantly opposed to the regulations,” said Bruce Lawson of the Shirley Basin/Bates Hole Local Sage Grouse Working Group in the Commission’s public comment period. “Our biggest concern is what the regulation will do to the native bird population from a genetics and disease standpoint. Why would we take a genetically pure native species and subject it to the possibilities of genetic dilution from captive sage grouse?”
Lawson said so many things are going on that negatively affect the sage grouse, but if sage grouse farms are allowed he says they will be the biggest threat.
“I grew up in Wyoming, and one of the greatest things in my life was when my dad would take me hunting. My earliest and fondest memory of hunting with my dad was hunting sage grouse,” noted Lawson. “I hope you can ensure future generations have the opportunity to hunt genetically pure wild sage grouse.”
Cheryl Sorenson of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming told the Commission that at this point industry has no interest in bird farm investment. “We’ve seen little evidence to support the scientific approach to bird farming, and our stance is that we’d like to see regulations in place so that if the data does come to support bird farming our operators could use that to enhance the population. We’re interested for later use, but at this time there’s no direct interest in investing.”
A representative for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation (WWF) also came forward in opposition to the regulation, saying, “We remain unconvinced of the reliable scientific evidence that sage grouse can be raised in captivity on a meaningful scale, and it’s a step toward private ownership of native wildlife in Wyoming.”
She also said the WWF believes wildlife management should be left to the Commission and the Game and Fish Department and not a legislative budget footnote.
However, not all comments were opposed to Chapter 60. “The sage grouse has been decimated in the last 15 or 20 years. We’ve gotten to a point where I don’t know, without privatization, that we can get the sage grouse we need,” said Casper resident John Burd.
In response to the genetic question, Burd emphasized the eggs would be taken from the same genetic population. “You’re still releasing the same genetics, and this would allow the birds to increase a population that has drastically declined,” he continued.
He also stated the captive breeding of sage grouse would cause landowners and farms to recreate habitat for sage grouse. “Look at all the pheasant farms that always increase habitat for their birds,” he said.
Legal council for the Commission said because Chapter 60 is a footnote to a budget and not a state statute the Commission is not mandated to pass the regulations. Wyoming State Senator Jennings argued that the intention of the budget footnote was to have regulations passed.
“We thought it was a logical idea and another tool that could be used in sage grouse management,” explained Jennings. “I agree with a lot of the comments, but we probably do have a couple of game bird farms that, in conjunction with the Game and Fish, need to go out and collect research.”
“Wyoming is proactive on a lot of things. Why can’t we be the first ones to figure out the science of raising sage grouse in captivity and the proper way to put them back in the wild?” he questioned.
In the end the Commission decided to give the regulations further consideration and bring them back at a later date. The Commission passed a motion to not pass Chapter 60 as written, and to not develop rules until credible science and further studies can be collected.