Take action for Washington’s imperiled sage-grouse populations
Conservation Northwest / Nov 24, 2020 / Action Alert, Sage Grouse, Sagelands
WILD NW ACTION ALERT #309: Through December 30, support reclassifying sage-grouse as “Endangered” in Washington state.
The greater sage-grouse, known for their elaborate courtship dances and display areas (leks), were historically abundant throughout shrub-steppe ecosystems of central and eastern Washington state. Today, with more than 90 percent of their habitat gone, the bird’s small, isolated populations occur only in Kittitas and Yakima counties on the Yakima Training Center, and in Douglas and Lincoln Counties, with birds occasionally wandering into Okanogan and Grant counties.
This summer’s devastating wildfire season may reduce our strongest sage-grouse populations by 50 percent, and will potentially eliminate others. Without help, this nationally unique and increasingly rare Columbia Basin sage-grouse may not recover.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is proposing to up-list greater sage-grouse in Washington from Threatened to Endangered through a periodic status review. We believe this up-listing is essential to increase protections, maintain public awareness and sharpen the focus on recovery of this iconic species so important to our state’s shrub-steppe, especially in light of recent fires in sage-grouse habitat.
Prior to this year’s devastating fires, the sage-grouse population was estimated at 770 birds, barely above the 650 recommended trigger for up-listing. It is estimated that the fires will reduce sage-grouse populations in Douglas County by 50 percent and will eliminate sage-grouse from Lincoln County, putting Washington’s grouse population at 380 birds and dangerously close to extinction.
Most sage-grouse occur on private lands in our state. Through non-regulatory programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), landowners and government agencies have long invested in maintaining the shrub-steppe habitats necessary for sage-grouse survival. But recent mega-fires and changes to the CRP in 2012 are threatening these critical grasslands and the very existence of this iconic species.
Up-listing sage-grouse is the right tool at this time to refocus needed attention, dollars, and efforts on reversing a downward trend in the survival of this amazing species in our state.
Public comments are being accepted through December 30. Please submit comments in favor of up-listing this iconic sagelands species using our simple form! Or, feel free to copy, paste and edit our suggested comments below and submit them in an email to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Suggested comments on Washington sage-grouse up-listing proposal
To Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff,
I fully support the listing of the greater sage-grouse as a state Endangered species as proposed through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s periodic status review process. Sage-grouse are currently listed as Threatened. I believe up-listing to Endangered status is necessary to boost recovery efforts for this iconic species so important to our state’s shrub-steppe ecosystems and communities.
Recent research confirms that Washington’s Columbia basin sage-grouse are the most genetically unique and distinct sub-population in North America, and may possess important adaptations not found in other sage-grouse. Protecting Columbia basin sage-grouse may help ensure broader nationwide sage-grouse recovery.
Prior to this year’s devastating fires, the once widespread sage-grouse population had dwindled to an estimated at 770 birds. The fires in Lincoln County have most likely extirpated the small number of sage-grouse that existed there. It is estimated the fires in Douglas County where most sage-grouse live will reduce its population by 50 percent—putting Washington’s sage-grouse population at 380 birds, well below the 650 bird up-listing threshold.
Increasing current levels of protection would promote the survival of sage-grouse in our state, but would not result in increased regulations for private landowners where sage-grouse occur and breeding sites known as leks are often found. Up-listing this species will also focus attention on the need to maintain and expand the Conservation Reserve Program and Safe Acres for Wildlife Programs that are essential for sage-grouse recovery by protecting critical habitat while supporting landowners and rural communities.
The potential for large, uncharacteristic wildfires to burn large areas of sagebrush habitat is an imminent threat to sage-grouse, as well as many other species of wildlife and the people that live and work on these lands. Loss of habitat exposes remaining birds to predation and direct mortality, leading to smaller populations of birds and inbreeding threats and other conservation concerns. In the past, reintroduction efforts have not proven successful in increasing bird numbers and cannot be counted on to maintain the species.
What is needed is more attention to maintaining and protecting critical sage-grouse habitats from the threats to their survival. Up-listing sage-grouse is the right tool at this time to refocus needed attention, dollars, and efforts on reversing a downward trend in the survival of this amazing species in our state.