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Inventive project tries to strengthen the Sage Grouse population

Sage Grouse
Sage Grouse(KFYR-TV)
Published: Aug. 8, 2020 at 5:18 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Sage Grouse are unique birds found in far southwest North Dakota. Mike Anderson tells us about an inventive project to try and bolster the population in this week’s North Dakota Outdoors.

North Dakota Game and Fish Department, along with Utah State University, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and U.S. Geological Survey, are trying to bolster the sage grouse population in southwest North Dakota after population declines in the mid-2000s due to West Nile Virus.

“Once it fell below 200 males that we counted every spring, it had never rebounded or never started coming back up and so we initiated this project in 2016, it was kicked off. And 2017 was the first year we started bringing sage grouse from Wyoming, from near Rawlins, Wyoming, up to North Dakota,” said NDGF Upland Game Supervisor, Jesse Kolar.

The first year of the study biologists released only adult birds into North Dakota, but the last couple of years they’ve also brought chicks into the state.

“The latest thing that we’ve been trying is brood translocations, where we let the hens nest in their native habitat in Wyoming where they’re not naive. And then once they have their chicks and they’re over five days old, we capture them at night via spotlighting, bring them up to North Dakota and then hopefully with those chicks in tow, the hen will be less likely to disperse and leave our study area, said Kolar.

Once the sage grouse hens and chicks are released, Todd Black and his technicians monitor the chicks until they’re 50 days old.

Todd: “We’ll go out tonight at 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, and we’ll go out with spotlights. We’ll be on 4-wheelers, and one of the reasons we’re checking them at night, all of these hens have GPS transmitters on them and the chicks have little teeny tiny VHF transmitters on them. We will still use our VHF telemetry to make sure that they’re in the general vicinity. And then we use our binoculars and our spotlight and we try to find them before they see us and fly away and kind of move in on them,” said Research Associate Utah State University, Todd Black.

The chicks stay close to the hen when roosting, and that’s when Black and his crews get an accurate count.

“Some of our VHF transmitters don’t work so we’re doing night checks to see what we’ve got,” said Black.

The state’s sage grouse population today is a far cry from the 1960s, when the population was estimated 1,500 birds.

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