Wyoming Game and Fish Sees Sage Grouse Declines in 2021

Wyoming Game and Fish Sees Sage Grouse Declines in 2021

Written by on January 5, 2022

Sage grouse numbers remain in flux in Wyoming, as early analysis suggests there were declines in reproduction during 2021 which will affect populations in 2022.

Wyoming Game and Fish released an early assessment of 2021’s sage grouse numbers. Based on those numbers, there are indications sage grouse reproduction declined slightly in the last year.

Wings from harvested chick and hen sage grouse are collected from hunters — primarily in central and southwest Wyoming. Once collected, hunters voluntarily contribute wings by dropping them off at designated collection points during the hunting season.

Hunters deposited wings from 621 chicks and 750 hens in collection barrels throughout the state. In a preliminary analysis, Wyoming’s 2021 chick-to-hen ratio was 0.8 chicks/hen. It’s a decrease from two previous years where reproduction ratios held at 1.1 chicks/hen.

Sage Grouse Hen

Courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish

Based on the tentative analysis of 2021 numbers, male lek attendance is expected to be lower in Spring 2022.

“There’s no doubt that Wyoming’s drought has an impact on this year’s chick recruitment,” said Leslie Schreiber, Wyoming Game and Fish Department sage grouse/sagebrush biologist. “Good moisture in the spring and summer and quality habitat are the top two contributing factors of chick survival.”

During the first month of life, chicks rely on a diet of high-protein insects with adequate habitat cover. As the bird grows, grass and forbs —like wildflowers — become another important food source. Older birds rely almost exclusively on sagebrush in their diet.

“Sage grouse are a sagebrush obligate species and could not survive without it,” Schreiber said.

Thirty-eight percent of the world’s sage grouse inhabit Wyoming. The state supports more than 1,700 known, occupied leks.

A decline in 2021 wouldn’t be surprised for Wyoming Game and Fish. Data collected during Spring 2021 already suggested lek attendance was down 13% from 2020.

The decline is attributed to two factors. While there are well-observed cyclical sage grouse population patterns in Wyoming, persistent drought conditions also contributed to lower numbers.

In March 2021, the most comprehensive study of sage grouse population trends was published by the U.S. Geological Survey. Research across 11 western states showed increasing rates of decline across much of the bird’s natural habitat. Populations, according to the U.S.G.S., are less than a quarter of what they were 50 years ago.

Western Wyoming was the only area with stable populations.

Schreiber calls Wyoming a “sage grouse stronghold” and praises the hunters who harvest birds, providing valuable information for population management.

“We appreciate hunters dropping off wings in our collection barrels, this enhances our annual data collection efforts,” Schreiber said.

A full analysis for 2021 bird populations will be available in the sage grouse job completion report, posted on the Game and Fish website in Spring 2022.

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