Wyoming Chapter comments to improve sage-grouse regulations

By Jamila Blake

©Bob Wick, BLM

New policies and regulations regarding greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) management were proposed in the state of Wyoming earlier this year in response to new legislation, specifically relating to the practice of captive breeding.

The Wyoming Chapter of The Wildlife Society sent a letter to State Senators in February urging them to vote against an amended bill (Game Bird Farms – Greater Sage-grouse, H.B.271) that would allow for collection of wild sage-grouse eggs for captive rearing and release. The bill became law (Enrolled Act 91) in March, requiring Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to develop rules to regulate commercial activity by Sept. 1.

Draft regulations were developed by WGFD to certify game bird farm licensees to collect greater sage-grouse eggs and facilitate captive breeding populations, as a result of the new law. The Wyoming Chapter submitted comments in July with recommendations to improve the state’s proposed regulations. Utilizing the expertise of their membership, peer-reviewed literature, and the input of knowledgeable scientists and colleagues, the Wyoming Chapter made suggestions to improve aspects of the regulations — including those relating to egg collection, disease, and reproductive success.

The comments stress the importance of excluding core sage-grouse population areas from geographic zones approved for egg collection and sage-grouse release efforts. When eggs are collected, the Wyoming Chapter recommends that the total number of nests impacted in a given year should not exceed 33 nests per licensee and that the maximum number of nests disturbed — including those inadvertently disturbed by licensee activities — should be determined each year by WGFD based on habitat conditions for that year.

To limit the risk of disease transfer, the Wyoming Chapter’s comments include a recommendation to “eliminate entirely the possibility that wild sage-grouse will come within 100 feet of captive individuals” by maintaining an unoccupied buffer zone. The comments cite literature that has suggested that sage-grouse may succumb to diseases within days of infection, so the Chapter recommended an increase in the intervals of WGFD inspection of captive facilities from annually to at least quarterly.

In addition to submission of written comments, former Wyoming Chapter President Matt Holloran presented a statement on behalf of the chapter during a public meeting in Casper, Wyoming. WGFD will convene again on Wednesday, Aug. 23 to make final decisions and offer another opportunity for public comment.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.