Hunters killed at least 874 greater sage grouse hens in Wyoming last year, prompting a state grouse team member to question the wisdom of allowing a hunt of the imperiled species.
The state’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team is meeting Wednesday to address Brian Rutledge’s concerns. Rutledge is director of the National Audubon Society’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative and a SGIT member. His question looms as greater sage grouse numbers are down an estimated 81% nationwide in the last 53 years.
“I want to hear why this is OK,” Rutledge said.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department asks hunters to deposit in roadside collection barrels one wing from each sage grouse taken. In 2020, sportsmen and women deposited 2,156 wings statewide, including those from 980 chicks and 302 yearling or adult males.
The large number of hens shot troubled Rutledge. In the Southwest Wyoming region alone, hunters dropped 294 yearling or adult female greater sage grouse wings in area barrels last year.
It’s hard to say exactly what impact hunting has. Biologists in most states and across the West don’t calculate specific grouse numbers, but Wyoming is believed to hold about 38% of the estimated 200,000 to 500,000 birds in the world.
On Wednesday, Game and Fish sage grouse and sagebrush biologist Leslie Schreiber is scheduled to review hunting impacts, plus the team’s preliminary numbers from spring breeding-ground lek counts, with the SGIT.
“Hunting is an important component of sage grouse management in Wyoming and has not [been] shown to have a negative impact on the population,” Schreiber said in a statement issued this spring, when Game and Fish released its wing counts. Those counts led Game and Fish to determine Wyoming’s 2020 chick-to-hen ratio to be 1.1 chicks per hen — the same as in 2019.
A population needs at least 1.5 chicks per hen to expand, Schreiber stated earlier this year.
Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission in April set a 2021 fall hunting season of 12 days in one hunt area and two days in another. Two other areas remain closed.
Wyoming’s greater sage grouse hunting seasons have been strategically reduced to protect the population, said Tom Christiansen, former Game and Fish sage grouse program coordinator. “We don’t want to harvest more than 10% of the population in the fall,” he told WyoFile.