May 24, 2019

Murkowski Applauds New Secretarial Order on Sage Grouse

Press Release from Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today expressed her support for the secretarial order signed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to improve sage grouse conservation and strengthen consultation between the federal government and western states.

Secretarial Order 3353 establishes an internal review team to evaluate and make recommendations on the land use plans finalized in 2015 that address conservation of the sage grouse and its habitat. The review will also consider local economic growth and job creation.

“I applaud Secretary Zinke for directing Interior to evaluate the land management policies aimed at protecting the sage grouse to ensure that the input of the 11 impacted western states is properly considered,” Murkowski said. “Cooperation between the federal, state, and local governments will produce a better result for the citizens and species that depend on our public lands.”

Murkowski is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. More information about the new Secretarial Orders is available here.

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The Greater Sage-Grouse Story: Do We Have It Right?

by Matthew A. Cronin

On the Ground
• Greater sage-grouse were found to be threatened or endangered with extinction in a preliminary assessment in 2010, with a final decision on an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing due in 2015.
• ESA criteria regarding endangered status (in danger of extinction), threatened status (likely to become in danger of extinction), the foreseeable future (in which a species will become in danger of extinction), and a significant portion of a species range (without which a species will be in danger of extinction) are not definitive, rely on predictions, and are all concerned with species extinction, not simply population declines.
• The 2010 ESA determination for sage-grouse relies on observations of declining populations, predictions from models with uncertain assumptions, incomplete population data, and anticipated habitat changes. Prediction of species extinction from this information can be considered speculation, and insufficient for an ESA listing.
• Wildlife management without the encumbrances of the ESA and its associated litigation and regulation can be used to maintain and enhance species that are not in immediate danger of extinction, such as sage-grouse.

To purchase the full report, follow this link. For more information, contact me at this website.

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BLM Posts Land for the Sage Grouse?

Following this story, hidden behind claims of protecting the sage grouse, I have come to ask myself what it is that the Federal Government is really doing behind to “Off Limit” signs. It makes little sense that instead of attempting to “save” the sage grouse by utilizing the fascist Endangered Species Act, instead the government opts to “close the land down” for a period of two years while they think about it.

So what is the real reason Government wants this land “Off Limits?”

Following last month’s milestone decision to keep the beleaguered greater sage grouse off the endangered species listing, federal agencies in Utah have temporarily closed more than 233,000 acres of public and national forest lands for up to two years while they determine if the lands’ importance to the ground-based bird habitat is such that they should be made off limits for a longer period.<<<Read More>>>

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BLM rejection of Governor’s Review and Appeals – ID, NV, ND, SD, UT

SUMMARY: The Approved Resource Plan Amendments and Approved Resource Plan/Records of Decision (RODs) for the Great Basin Region and Rocky Mountain Regions were signed by the BLM Director and the Assistant Secretary, Lands and Minerals Management, on September 21, 2015. The RODs constitute the final decision of the BLM and the Approved Plan Amendments and Approved Plan were effective immediately upon their signing. In accordance with its regulations, the BLM is publishing the reasons for rejecting the recommendations of the Governors of Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah regarding Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, and Utah Greater Sage-Grouse (GRSG) Proposed Resource Management Plans Amendments (PRMPAs) and Final Environmental Impact Statements (FEISs) and the South Dakota Proposed Resource Management Plan (PRMP) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which were published on May 29, 2015.<<<Read More>>>

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Who Needs ESA When There’s a Fascist Government?

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced at a ceremony yesterday outside Denver that the greater sage grouse will not be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Jewell also announced final approval of the federal grouse plans that amend 98 BLM and Forest Service land-use plans to incorporate grouse protections that buffer the bird’s prime breeding habitats from oil and gas development, hardrock mining, transmission lines and wind turbines (Greenwire, Sept. 22).

The federal plans establish primary habitat management areas and general habitat management areas. The 10 million acres of proposed mining withdrawals cover designated “sagebrush focal areas” — a subset of the primary habitat management areas that are considered “essential for the species’ survival,” and which the agencies will “offer the highest protections in these anchor areas,” according to the plans.

Source: Interior proposes banning new mining on 10M sage grouse acres | WyoFile

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Presenting History by Fraud

In a report filed by Fox News, Erik Molvar, who runs environmental group Wild Earth Guardians’ campaign to save the sage grouse, said, “In the 1800’s there were probably more than 16 million of these birds.

Dr. Charles Kay, a wildlife ecologist at Utah State University, responds in part to that claim and issues surrounding the listing of the sage grouse for Endangered Species Act protection, “It is… ANTI-SCIENCE, as virtually all studies on minimum population size and population viability analysis have concluded that a population of 7,500 animals is in little or no danger of extinction—–with a minimum of 200,000 birds ,THE SPECIES SHOULD NOT EVEN BE COSIDERED———As to the 16 million figure…—–it is FRAUD———–TRUE, the population has been declining since the 1950’s—–DUE TO INCREASED PREDATION WITH THE ELIMINATION OF THE SHEEP INDUSTRY, which once practiced predator control——the same applies to the decline of mule deer. Protect the predators and then declare the bird endangered——–WHAT A SCAM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!———As you and I both know, since we are the only people ,who have studied all the first-person journals of exploration in western NA in detail, sage grouse were NOT COMMON HISTORICALLY—-and they only increased after wide-spread predator control—–and after sagebrush INCREASED due to over-grazing and the elimination of land-management fires SET BY NATIVE PEOPLE.”

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Gov. Otter Submits Alternate Sage Grouse Plan To Restrict Human Activity on 10 Million Acres of Idaho

*Editor’s Note* On the surface this may appear to be an article about attempts in Idaho and generally the Northern Rockies to save sage grouse. It is much, much more than that. Although this is a long read, I strongly encourage readers to wade through it. It contains all the elements that expose environmentalists’ agendas for it is.

Present here are the methods employed by environmentalists to achieve agendas, regardless of what science suggests, all in an effort to rid people of the landscape. In short, they just don’t want anyone using the resources God gave us nor are they interested in private ownership of land. This is an arm of the United Nations Agenda 21 plans for “sustainable development”, which can be defined as you ceding you rights and your right to own land and do with it what you wish.

Many outdoor sportsmen have had the wool pulled over their eyes and they think environmental organizations, sometime disguised as “conservation” groups are the friends of hunters, trappers and fishermen. Nothing can be further from truth. This article, written by my good friend George Dovel, who prides himself on accuracy in reporting, exemplifies the blatant hypocrisy that exists in that the only goals are to end hunting, access to land for recreation as well as such things as mining, etc.; somehow disguised as an attempt at saving the sage grouse.

As the author points out, this “plan” to save the sage grouse is a carbon copy of the “plan” to save the gray wolf and many other species. While science unequivocally shows the real cause of sage grouse decline, as is the same old claim repeated and repeated, “it’s loss of habitat, human presence and hunting by humans”. This tactic has been alive for years now and is going strong. Until sportsmen first are willing to admit this is a real issue and secondly learn to recognized and then not accept it, we can only expect further reductions in our opportunities to harvest game and take advantage of the resources we have. And that’s only the beginning.

Republished from The Outdoorsman with permission from the editor:

by George Dovel

After associates convinced me to begin publishing the current version of The Outdoorsman in March of 2004, the first 23 issues documented the change from state F&G agencies managing our wildlife resource – to many of them ignoring state laws and exploiting it. While still pretending to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage our valuable game and fish species, the only species they took any effective action to perpetuate were “native” predators and other non-hunted species and their parasites and diseases.

Five years ago I published Outdoorsman Bulletin No. 24, summarizing for readers, including Idaho’s state and federal lawmakers, exactly how our state Fish & Game management was hijacked by national and international extremists. That issue discussed so-called “nongame program funding” and explained how that was simply a phrase used to accomplish the transition from managing the game, fish and furbearers which benefit humans, to implementing the so-called Wildlands/biodiversity agenda promoted by the United Nations and various extremists.

We’ve Won a Few Battles but We’re Losing the War

Our publication of facts resulted in a few notable battles being won, including the Idaho Legislature’s defeat of TNC’s (The Nature Conservancy’s) effort to have taxpayers fund its acquisition of so-called “conservation easements”. Also, the National Rifle Association’s “Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap” language published in that 2007 issue will finally appear as a proposed Constitutional Amendment on Idaho’s November 2012 ballot.

But despite these minor setbacks for bureaucrats whose goal is destroying our rural way of life, our Western Governors have given them control of our ability to develop cheap energy and other benefits from our public lands. It is represented as the states controlling their own destiny but, nothing could be further from the truth.

Back when USFWS invited the three Northern Rocky Mountain states to participate in wolf recovery and submit their own plans for how this would be done in each state, the Idaho Legislature created a Wolf Oversight Committee. It told IDFG to provide accurate information and said the plan must preserve local customs and culture.

Instead, IDFG statisticians grossly exaggerated the number of prey animals available for wolves, and a majority of the Oversight Committee members allowed Biologist Jon Rachael to simply copy the FWS Wolf Plan. That included its extreme penalties for anyone who killed or harassed a wolf without proof it was in the act of killing livestock. Efforts by Boise County Commissioners to include the right to protect domestic livestock and dogs on private land in the Plan were publicly ridiculed.

History is Simply Repeating Itself

Now, nearly two decades later, a similar committee (“Sage-Grouse Task Force”) was appointed by Idaho’s Governor, and co-chaired by Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore and Otter’s legal counsel. The Task Force was supposed to rewrite a federal plan to prevent the sage grouse from possibly being listed as a threatened species in 2015, while protecting existing rights of Idaho citizens.

But like the former Wolf Oversight Committee, Gov. Otter’s Task Force submitted a condensed form of the federal “Dec. 21, 2012 Sage Grouse Conservation Plan” to Gov. Otter on June 15, 2012. Apparently virtually copied from Wyoming’s “amended” federal plan, it restricts new human activity and implies more grouse leks* should be counted and more money spent on habitat projects.
(* assembly areas for male grouse display and courtship)

Before we discuss the draft plan that Otter prepared for the feds on June 29, 2012, let’s examine IDFG records to see if the fed’s solutions produced more grouse:

Lek Total Grouse Birds Per
Year Count Hunters Harvest Hunter
1986 178 11,200 37,900 3.4
1996 387 12,000 21,000 1.8
2006 660 8,900 12,500 1.4

Earlier Idaho Sage Grouse plans written in 1997 and 2006: (a) put restrictions on new human activity; (b) increased the number of leks counted every year; and (c) increased federal funding for IDFG grouse surveys and other projects. But the continuing decline in the number of sage grouse harvested by hunters in Idaho and other states is proof that none of these solutions have worked.

Sage grouse, as their name implies, normally rely on some types of sagebrush to exist. If half of the sagebrush in the 11 states with sage grouse populations has been converted to grassland or other agricultural use, or else destroyed by fire, it is reasonable to assume that the remaining acres should support up to half as many sage grouse as it previously may have been capable of.

But once their population declines, whether from excessive harvest by humans or other causes, the decrease in grouse does not cause a decrease in the number of many of their primary predators. This is especially true of nest predators such as ravens, crows and magpies – which rely on many other food sources for their survival.

A Comparison with Elk and Bears

Outdoorsman readers are aware that both black and grizzly bears are a major predator of neonatal (newborn) elk calves. When the ratio of bears to elk was low, the elk herds in Idaho’s Clearwater Region remained healthy.

But when IDFG biologists allowed hunters to kill too many elk, the same number of bears kept killing the same number of newborn elk. Because there were now too few adult elk left to produce enough calves to feed the bears, plus enough surviving calves to replace adults that died, the once-famous elk herd now remains in a non-productive unhealthy predator pit.

Seventeen years of protected wolves added to the bears, cougar and lesser predators impacting the Clearwater elk herd has virtually destroyed world-famous elk units that provided almost half of Idaho’s annual elk harvest for half a century. A very similar scenario is playing out in the 11 states that still have populations of sage grouse – but refuse to control their predators.

Every wildlife biologist with any involvement in sage grouse is aware that excessive predation is the primary cause of the grouse decline. And virtually all of the recent research indicates that raven populations have increased by 600% in the U.S. during the past 25 years, with increases of up to 1600% in parts of the West.

NDOW Claims Its P-R Funded Study Was Flawed

When I read the research report published on July 25, 2008 by Idaho State University Assistant Professor Dr. David Delehanty and former graduate student Dr. Peter Coates (see at http://www2.isu.edu/headlines/?p=1308), I felt this was finally a quality of research that no wildlife manager could ignore or excuse* away. I was wrong.
(* In sage grouse mortality study W-48-R-21 by NV. Dept. of Wildlife in 1988, NDOW put 7 brown chicken eggs in each of 200 simulated grouse nests in two study areas in Washoe County, and on a ranch in Elko County. Predators ate 100% of the Washoe County eggs in two weeks and destroyed 84% of the nests in 3 days. NDOW now claims the study proved nothing because the nests were artificial.)

The ISU researchers reported that sage grouse left their nest for about 25 minutes to get water and feed each morning near dawn, and again each evening at dusk. Taking advantage of the hen’s brief absence in the morning, they concealed miniature camouflaged infrared video cameras focused on the nest area to record every predator of the eggs and young chicks around the clock.

Pre-nesting hens were captured at night using a flashlight, and fitted with radio collars in order to follow their movements and locate the nests they built later (see video image inset).

Other researchers had claimed ravens, badgers and ground squirrels were primary sage grouse nest predators. But despite frequent nest visits by the ground squirrels, they were never able to bite through the large eggs.

The cameras confirmed that small bits of eggshells found in ground squirrel droppings by earlier researchers resulted from their eating pieces of shells, a source of calcium, after a real predator had destroyed the shell in the nest and eaten its contents.

The researchers used video monitoring at 55 of the 87 nests they regularly observed from 2002-2005. Ravens committed slightly more than half of the total predation at nests, with badger predation running a close second.

Video frame photo of Raven eating eggs in Sage Grouse nest in NE Nevada.

In 2010 a more complete and updated version of their study was published in the Journal of Wildlife
Management. But as with their study published earlier, their recommendation remained the same:

“We encourage wildlife managers to reduce interactions between ravens and nesting sage-grouse by managing raven populations and restoring and maintaining shrub canopy cover in sage-grouse nesting areas.”(emphasis added)

“Managing” ravens or other primary nest predators means reducing their population to a number that will
allow enough surviving sage grouse chicks to halt the decline and restore the populations. The Coates/Delehanty research included getting USDA APHIS Wildlife Services to distribute 10,500 chicken eggs laced with poison at the southernmost of their four research areas (see below).

Coates and Delehanty sage-grouse study sites in NE Nevada during 2002–2005, based on lek complexes separated by distances of more than 12 miles. Ravens were poisoned at southernmost site by USDA-WS. Note landfill near Jackpot.

Similar raven control in both Nevada and other states had similar success increasing young sage grouse survival. In a 1981 Idaho Study by Autenrieth, raven predation was also the major cause of nest failure.

And once raven control was initiated, 51% of nests survived compared to only six percent in the study area with no raven control. Although controlling ravens and other major nest scavengers is the logical solution to increase young sage grouse survival, nest predators are not mentioned in the FWS Greater Sage Grouse Fact Sheets.

Its 2006 Sheet discusses 35 Army installations and numerous National Guard facilities that fall within the sage grouse areas. It boasts about how the Yakima Training Center developed a greater sage grouse conservation plan which included translocating birds to diversify the gene pool, maintaining high quality habitat, and reducing the threat from fire and predation (by altering habitat).

Military Bases Spend $Millions on Sage Grouse

Among its report of the expensive conservation measures being implemented by these various military bases, it says Idaho’s Mountain Home AFB has been working on sage grouse conservation since 1996, including research, habitat mapping, grouse surveys and avoidance protocol. It describes how it trained ground emitter crews to report sighting of the species, sagebrush habitat and invasive weeds and how it restricts human access to nesting sites during the breeding and nesting seasons.

This one air base spent more than $3 million just on sage grouse from 1998-2004. These costs plus the helicopter grouse surveys, restoring native plants, getting rid of invasive plants and weeds, etc. at all of the military bases that are involved amounts to millions of taxpayer dollars spent by DOD every year on the failed effort to halt the sage grouse decline.

FWS: Restrict Human Activity – Ignore Predators

The next FWS “Greater Sage Grouse Fact Sheet”, published in 2011, fails to mention that military efforts to transplant sage grouse successfully were a dismal failure. Ongoing military activities are not even mentioned and the “threats” section reflects the “restrict new human development” agenda that is now dictated by each state’s wildlife management agency as follows:

“A sage brush community may take years to recover from disturbance and some range management practices. Greater sage-grouse populations are negatively affected by energy development activities (primarily oil, gas, and coal-bed methane); especially those that degrade important sagebrush habitat, even when mitigative measures are implemented. Impacts can result from direct habitat loss, fragmentation of important habitats by roads, pipelines and power lines, and direct human disturbance. The negative effects of energy development often add to the impacts from other human development, resulting in declines in greater sage-grouse populations. Other important factors in the species’ decline include fire and invasive plant species.”(emphasis added)

Otter’s Plan Ignores Predation as a Threat

Gov. Otter’s 52-page June 29, 2012 Sage Grouse Plan says it supplements and in some cases replaces the (358-page) 2006 Idaho Plan. It continues, “For activities not addressed by this planning effort, including predation issues, the 2006 State Plan and LWG (local working group) plans will continue to be operative.”

It goes on to explain that regulatory mechanisms in this plan “address primary threats (i.e. large infrastructure and energy development, wildfire, and invasive species) and secondary threats ( i.e. livestock grazing management issues, West Nile virus, recreation, and livestock infrastructure.)” Those are exactly the threats FWS told the state governors to address, with no mention of predation as a threat to sage grouse survival.

In preparing its 2006 Plan, the Idaho Sage Grouse Advisory Committee listed predation as only a very minor threat to sage grouse survival – number 12 in a declining order of ranked threats! And the biologists’ solution to sage grouse predation by ravens, crows and magpies is to eliminate their food sources provided by humans.

Although covering landfills, trash collection sites and sewage treatment facilities, and providing personnel and vehicles to dispose of road-kills might sound attractive, it ignores the tons of agricultural crop residue that is still available to ravens during a normal winter. Although large numbers of ravens and crows congregate at garbage dump landfills, especially during deep snow winters, they are also well-equipped to scavenge the wild creatures elsewhere that succumb to malnutrition.

LWGs Find It Easier to Repeat the Myth, “Control of Predators Is Not Necessary to Restore Sage Grouse.”

The 2006 Plan includes three pages of biological questions that must be answered before a decision is rendered to attempt limited short-term predator control. Two of those questions require three years of research and record keeping to get answers, and then there are habitat and infrastructure requirements and specific criteria that must be met before they ask IDFG to request control.

But One Utah LWG Dealt in Facts – Not Myths

During a March 2007 Predator Workshop held in Portland, Oregon, Baxter et al presented the results of an eight year study confirming that red fox predation was driving Utah’s Strawberry Valley sage grouse to extinction. They reported that the grouse population decreased from 3,000-4,000 in 1939 (Griner 1939) to only 150 in 2000 – the third year of the study.

Beginning in 1999, after fox predation was confirmed as a major cause of recent sage grouse decline, USDA-Wildlife Services specialists combined aerial gunning and on-the-ground fox control. In 2001-2002, fixed wing and helicopter gunner flights easily located active fox dens by noting dirt on top of the snow, and then placed an ESA-approved gas cartridge in each active den to kill the foxes.

For all of 2003 through 2005 they added control of coyotes, badgers and skunks, and used aerial gunning, gassing dens, site-specific shooting and trapping, plus weekly poison egg baits to kill magpies, crows and ravens. Ground hunting and gassing dens by volunteers was also used to remove and disrupt breeding of resident red foxes throughout the study area.

Trapping and Transplanting Triples Grouse Numbers

While this intensive predator control was taking place, Utah FWP submitted a plan to transplant sage grouse with the same characteristics and DNA to the Strawberry Valley from five different locations. This prevented the inbreeding and poor reproduction that destroyed the declining pygmy rabbit population in Washington, and also prevented shortages in the several source populations.

And the intensive predator control prevented the poor survival that otherwise occurs when any prey species is relocated in a new environment without first controlling its predators. Thanks to excellent chick survival, 30 months after the first transplant, the declining Strawberry sage grouse population had tripled!

One of two signs erected by the Strawberry Valley LWG to caution those who recreate in the area not to disturb the sage grouse.

The sign shown above states, “Current population numbers have increased through reintroduction efforts and effective habitat restoration and predator management.” It is important to remember that none of the dozens of expensive habitat and infrastructure recommendations in all of the sage grouse plans were considered relevant by the Strawberry LWG members until after several years of predator control and the transplanted grouse had reversed the grouse decline.

Over $1,000 Spent For Each Grouse Harvested

The millions of dollars spent annually by the military on these recommended corrective measures is just the “tip of the iceberg”. For example, Wyoming appropriated an average of a million dollars annually for six years to implement former Governor Freudenthal’s Core Area Sage Grouse Plan and has appropriated over $35 million since 2005 for wildlife projects – with 40% of that used to purchase conservation easements.

Those easements, which prevent portions of large ranches from being subdivided or developed, receive a 3-to-1 match from hunter’s federal excise taxes and other sources. In 2010, one of those other sources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, provided $20 million for Wyoming conservation easements and another $17 million to fund Wyoming Sage Grouse Core Area projects.

In Feb. of 2012, Wyoming Gov. Mead reported that expenditures from the state-appropriated trust fund and matching funds have totaled $200 Million spent on the ground since 2005. If you add sage grouse funding from the BLM, USFS and the many other sources mentioned in this article, and divide the average annual funding by the number of sage grouse killed by hunters, you will see that Wyoming is spending one or several thousand dollars for each sage grouse that is harvested!

Failure to Control Predators Has Decimated Wyoming’s Once Famous Sage Grouse Harvests

Although Wyoming’s reported 2011 harvest of 10,120 sage grouse is almost exactly the average 10,140 birds harvested during the preceding 10 years, it is an 88% decline from the 1980 harvest of 85,254 grouse! Sage grouse numbers had peaked between the 1930s-1960s and the total decline becomes more severe in each new decade.

In 1990 hunters in Wyoming killed only 41,786 sage grouse and that was also when the IAFWA, the State biologists’ lobbying group in Washington, D.C., declared that hunting had been replaced with non-consumptive wildlife recreation as the State Agencies’ top priority. In 2000, one year after a December 2, 1999 Sublette County Journal article titled “Are Sage Grouse the Next Spotted Owl?” the number harvested had dropped to 20,685.

The “Spotted Owl” article pointed out that biologists’ research indicated the need to control nest predators. But two lengthy rebuttal articles by Wyoming sage grouse biologists were also published, including the following comment:

“Although predators are the agent responsible for the majority of nest failures, the ultimate cause probably relates to habitat inadequacies, and not overall predator numbers. Sage grouse nesting habitat is characterized by dense sagebrush patches, with hatching success hinging on a healthy residual and forb herbaceous understory.” (emphasis added)

The current state alternate sage grouse plans similarly claim that lack of habitat is the “real” problem in most areas. Yet they offer not one shred of evidence to substantiate the unsupported opinion that manipulating the habitat will halt or significantly reduce the nest predation.

But the Coates video-camera research in Nevada found that, regardless of nest cover, the addition of each extra raven in a nesting area substantially increased the odds of predation and nest destruction. It also found that leaving a grass and/or forb understory at the nest site, resulted in increased predation by badgers and other four-legged predators, and also radically increased the potential spread of destructive wildfire.

Feds, NGOs Lack Authority to Manage Sage Grouse

It is important to remember that all three of Idaho’s state sage grouse plans – 1997, 2006 and 2012 – were written by committees that included people whose goal was to lock up rural land in core areas and wildlife corridors. But neither the federal participants nor the non governmental organizations (NGOs) have any authority to dictate how the states manage their wildlife unless/until that wildlife is listed as a threatened or endangered species under the ESA.

So Why Aren’t the Governors’ Plans Trying to Restore Sage Grouse by Controlling Excessive Predators?

In his Feb. 2012 State of the State address, WY Gov. Mead boasted that the $200 million in trust fund expenditures created about 500 new jobs per year and paid a total of $21 million in labor earnings since 2006. Most of the $200 million spent was state or federal income taxes or federal excise taxes paid by hunters so receiving only a $21 million return (benefit) would seem to be a poor investment for those who paid the taxes.

Despite Wyoming’s use of the fed’s recommended tools to rebuild its sage grouse population since 1996, the harvest has declined another 23%. During that same 16 years, the harvest in Idaho has declined from 21,000 in 1996 to only 2,144 in 2011 – a decrease of 90%!

For cynical readers who feel I may have cherry-picked the 1996 date to make Idaho look bad, Idaho’s 1990 sage grouse harvest was 55,800 which means the 2011 harvest of 2,144 reflected a decline of 96%! Yet on page 1 of his June 29, 2012 “Alternative Plan for Sage Grouse Management in Idaho,” Gov. Otter wrote:

“Idaho currently enjoys viable and widespread populations of sage-grouse.”

But on page 23 his plan states, “Due to the fact that sage-grouse can move across large areas during the year, IDFG is unable to precisely calibrate the State’s population or the minimum viable population.” (emphasis added).

Yet at “4.3.12 Predation” in Idaho’s 2006 plan, which is part of Gov. Otter’s 2012 plan, it states:

“Some believe sage-grouse declines coincided with the abandonment of broad-scale predator control efforts in the 1970s. During the post-1986 timeframe, however, sage-grouse populations overall stabilized, and in some instances increased.”

Yet the annual harvests published by IDFG below indicate that exactly the opposite occurred overall:

Period Total Total Avg Annual
Years Harvest Harvest
1987-1995 9 350,200 38,911
1996-2005* 9* 92,600 10,289
2006-2011 6 38,536 6,423
(* 2003 missing)

Although the season length was changed from 30 days to seven days in 1996 due to declining birds, the harvest still averaged 18,167 for three more years before it began to nose dive. In 2008 and 2009 biologists increased the season to 23 days and doubled the bag limit but it did not attract more of the hunters who knew the chance for harvesting even one sage grouse was poor.

The 2010 harvest was reported as 4,052 for 3,539 hunters and the 2011 harvest was 2,144 for 2,715 hunters. This was a new record low season harvest and also a record low for the number of birds harvested per hunter.

Idaho’s seven-day 2012 sage grouse season may be moved back to September to attract more hunters. The earlier season allows hunters to recognize juvenile grouse, which are preferred for eating, and makes it easier to kill hens and juveniles before they scatter in October.

Male Counts at Leks Don’t Guarantee Recovery

The message in Gov. Otter’s new plan that IDFG is not able to accurately estimate sage grouse populations or accurately calculate a minimum viable population is being repeated by other states. Despite an Idaho judge claiming the total population in the 11-state area is somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000, none of the state plans make any effort to accurately estimate the number in their state.

Instead they count just the number of males that are presumably “booming” at the active leks they find and count. Then they use those numbers over each three-year period to see whether one or both of the counts declined by more than 10% compared to the 2009-2011 counts.

There are obvious discrepancies built into this system. Not the least of these is the fact that the 2009-11 male/lek counts supposedly indicated a stable sage grouse population, yet the three years of declining harvests are the second lowest, the lowest, and a new record low harvest.

Would it be reliable to use the number of bugling bull elk counted to estimate the total number of bulls and cows, and the calves that survive predation? Of course not! Yet the plans are more concerned with imposing extreme restrictions on human activity than they are with restoring healthy viable sage grouse populations.

Feds, Judge, NGOs Create Another “Spotted Owl”

Beginning five years ago, Outdoorsman Bulletins 24, 29, 41 and 47 documented how 400 state wildlife
information specialists attending the FWS/TNC school in West Virginia were taught to spread misnformation about nongame wildlife. The state agencies were then provided with propaganda kits to help them convince the 49 state governors and the States’ congressional delegations they must work together with federal agencies and NGOs (e.g. TNC and The Wildlands Network) to regulate wildlife habitat, energy and water development and all other human activities on public lands.

In February of 2007 the Western Governors Assn. adopted “Protecting Wildlife Mitigation Corridors and Crucial Wildlife Habitat in the West.” In June of 2008, WGA approved its “Wildlife Corridors Initiative” using the TNC/WCI “Spine of the Continent” Wildlands map to illustrate proposed Core Areas and Wildlife Corridors.

That map implied a significant portion of Idaho would be designated as sage grouse core areas, and the 19 governors in the WGA were directed to involve their state wildlife agencies in every phase of the plan. IDFG and MTFW&P recently completed their multi-state boundary of that portion of Idaho and Montana set aside to protect bears, wolves and mountain lions, and the following FWS map illustrates the sage grouse areas in the 11 states used as a guide in mapping each state’s core areas:

March 25, 2011 USFWS map indicating their current and historic sage grouse ranges in the 11 states and two Canadian provinces.

Litigation That Supposedly Forced State Plans

In 2004 FWS said the sage grouse would not be listed under the ESA, but in 2007, Boise Federal District
Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill said FWS should reconsider its decision because he said it was “based on politics rather than science.” In 2010 FWS said the sage grouse should be listed as “threatened” but did not list it because too many other species had a higher listing priority.

FWS also said there was inadequate protection in the federal rules to protect the grouse from wildfires, cattle grazing, etc., and gave the BLM and the states until 2015 to come up with strict preventative measures that would be implemented if certain criteria were not met. In a series of lawsuits filed by three activist groups headed by “Western Watersheds”, Winmill approved this FWS action.

In yet another ruling on Feb. 7, 2012, resulting from a Western Watersheds lawsuit against the BLM,
Winmill ordered the BLM to immediately place the needs of sage grouse above the needs of cattlemen. At issue were five recently renewed grazing permits, which the Plaintiff charged and Winmill agreed, failed to properly address all potential impacts on Sage Grouse.

The Wyoming and Idaho Sage Grouse Plans plainly state that their primary goal is to prevent the bird from being listed by FWS in 2015, with a secondary goal of protecting sagebrush habitat for the grouse. Instead of proposing solutions that will halt the grouse decline, they both propose providing an understory in nesting areas that guarantees uncontrolled spread of wildfire and increased predation by 4-legged predators.

Otter’s requirement to limit the spread of wildfires to either 1,000 or 2,000 acres is ludicrous to Idahoans who have seen 933,000 acres already burned this summer – with 42 wildfires still active. One fire between Twin Falls and Oakley started three weeks ago, is still only “10% contained”, and wiped out a significant portion of the “Core” and “Important” Habitat Zones before most of the firefighting equipment even arrived.

The fact that sage grouse and all other game species were flourishing when predators were controlled and vast herds of livestock grazed off the understory, is ignored by extremists who want to severely curtail or eliminate almost every human use of the 10 million acres in Idaho. The Idaho plan bears a remarkable resemblance to the Idaho Wolf Plan copied by IDFG nearly two decades ago – except F&G was doing everything secretly and illegally then – whereas now they have legally been put in charge of the destruction by our Governor.

Would Interior Dept. Approve Existing Practices?

Wyoming’s plan would exempt current grazing and oil and mineral extraction and Idaho’s plan would exempt current grazing and other practices, but the BLM and Judge Winmill have just halted the grazing exemption in both Idaho and Wyoming. Several Idaho members of Otter’s Sage Grouse Task Force recommended changing a Core Habitat Zone (CHZ) in Washington and Adams County to a General Habitat Zone (GHZ) so that it is not part of the 10 million acres but, like the grazing exemption, how long will that last?

The few who hopefully still respect the welfare of at least some of their constituents seem to ignore the reality that they have promoted the anti-predator control, anti-resource user plan of their state fish and Game agency, the federal agencies and their radical NGO supporters. What guarantee does Otter have that the federal bureaucrats will honor their promises?

And if they do, and even if environmental activist Judge Winmill decides to reverse his 2012 ruling and approve the plans that disagree with that ruling, what will stop the next environmental activist from filing another legal action based on the fact that sage grouse populations are known to still be declining?

“The Dark Ages of Wildlife Management?”

Most of the bureaucrats who claim to support the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation weren’t even born when sportsmen and wildlife managers rebuilt our wild game resource. Those who have researched the remarkable feat even slightly, know that controlling predators to allow their prey species to recover was the primary biological tool that was used.

Yet many of the academic and agency wildlife biologists I have discussed this recovery with tell me that period was the “dark ages of wildlife management.” They repeat the well worn excuse that the “predator and prey evolved together for 10,000 years” and say they consider it “barbaric” to kill one species to benefit another.

The reality is that many Idaho sage grouse and mule deer populations had recovered so much by the mid-1930s that the federal agencies reported tens of thousands in some areas where there are now only a few hundred. Livestock grazing limited the size of many wildfires and facilitated the forage growth required by these species.

But by the late 1960s and early 70s the overharvest of virtually every game species was taking its toll. Protection of predators compounded the problem and it took until the late 1980s to partially restore these species.

In the early 1990s most wildlife managers endorsed a “hands off” philosophy of game management, now called “ecosystem management”. They continued to protect predators and non-game species and continued to exploit the game species in Idaho, including sage grouse.

Idaho hunters are now paying much more to harvest a fraction of the mule deer and upland bids they did then. Yet these destroyers of our wild game, who should be charged with criminal negligence for the loss of our billion-dollar wildlife resource, have been put in charge of restoring sage grouse and regulating all human activity in the Mexico-to-Alaska wildlands system they helped create.

Otter Plan Includes 149 Conservation Measures

Instead of endorsing legitimate biological tools that will restore sage grouse populations, Gov. Otter’s Plan offers 149 “Band-aid” conservation measures rather than admit that predator control is necessary in some areas. Washington County, Idaho approved a comprehensive plan which protects sage grouse leks from excessive noise.

If these measures designed to please environmental activists at your expense are disturbing, I suggest you read “Sage Grouse – Son of Spotted Owl” in the Summer 2012 issue of Range Magazine. It can also be downloaded at: http://www.rangemagazine.com/specialreports/ range-su12
-sage_grouse.pdf

The second of seven articles addressing Sage Grouse includes an estimate of between 350,000-535,000 sage grouse in the 11 states and the author asks the question, “Is that endangered?”

On the following pages, an article titled, “Ravens and Sage Grouse” by former Nevada State Assemblyman Ira Hansen addresses the problem of sage grouse predation in Nevada. The article prompted a public response by NDOW Director Ken Mayer who said he will not take the time to increase grouse populations because he is too busy working to keep the bird from being listed.

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