Sage grouse: WGFD evaluates SGEO
Cheyenne – Since the Sage Grouse Executive Order (SGEO) was signed in 2011, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and land managers across the state have been diligently working to prevent the bird from being listed as endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
“We’ve been doing a lot of work with sage grouse and implementing the SGEO,” comments WGFD Staff Terrestrial Biologist Scott Gamo. “Each year, FWS has a data call for the work that has been done in Wyoming on sage grouse, but one thing that has never been addressed is whether what we are doing is working or not.”
As a result, Gamo has begun a research project to compile data and determine if the actions resulting from the SGEO are helping to recover the species.
“I thought it would be worthwhile to take a direct look at the effectiveness of the SGEO,” he continues. “If it is working, that is a good thing, but if it’s not, we want to learn what we can change to make it better.”
Ultimately, the data from his research will be able to provide a quantitative look at the impacts of actions resulting from the policy.
To determine how effective the SGEO is, Gamo, in conjunction with the University of Wyoming Department of Ecosystem Science and Management and Professor Jeff Beck, is compiling data from a broad range of sources and analyzing it.
“We have quite a bit of data out there – and have for some time – on sage grouse,” he explains.
For example, the WGFD has put together a lek database yearly since 1948 by cooperating with agencies, volunteers and consultants on the number of males in leks each spring.
“We have the background for our populations from a trend standpoint,” Gamo says. “We also have information from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission, which looks at how many oil and gas wells have been developed in the state.”
The records from that organization, Gamo explains, can be utilized to compare to see how well pads have impacted sage grouse and other wildlife.
Other data, such as weather and landscape disturbance information, is also available.
“There are all sorts of data I am pulling together to analyze what is going on,” Gamo says.
In doing the project, Gamo emphasizes that much of the research has already been done, and he is simply working to compile the information.
“The reality is other people put the data together and collected all the information,” he says. “We started this summer putting it into a format that we can use to analyze.”
Along with analyzing sage grouse, Gamo is also working to analyze the state’s policy at a landscape level. Currently, 24 percent of the surface of the state are protected by various policies.
In addition to sage grouse, Gamo recognizes that other wildlife species are similarly affected by the core area strategy set forward in the SGEO.
“I was also curious how it affects other species – in particular the mule deer,” he notes.
“Mule deer are seeing a population dip West-wide,” Gamo explains. “They don’t have special policy like sage grouse do, but they are a common species that is having more difficulty now than in the past. I was curious if the policy also helps mule deer.”
In analyzing maps, Gamo noticed that approximately 33 percent of the mule deer’s winter range overlaps sage grouse core areas.
“Assuming we have better protections in core areas for grouse, those same efforts will apply to mule deer because the winter ranges are there,” he notes.
Further, other non-game species, such as pygmy rabbits and sage thrashers, may be positively impacted by the SGEO.
Because he started compiling information just this summer, Gamo notes that there are no results available yet, but he hopes to see data available as soon as this fall or early next spring.
He also emphasizes that further data collection is important for projects.
“Sometimes folks wonder why we keep gathering information,” says Gamo. “Sometimes, someone comes along and takes a long-term look at the data we have gathered over the years. That is where it becomes very important.”