Plans to save bistate sage grouse in Nevada gain momentum

SMITH VALLEY — It had all the makings of the classic prank known as a snipe hunt.

Up at 3:30 in the morning to drive an hour-plus to a remote patch of sagebrush, purportedly to view male sage grouse performing their mating dance on patches of barren ground known as leks.

But it was no prank. As dawn came and the Smith Valley came into focus, there they were. Many yards out to be sure but no doubt about it. The 3-pound male grouse were bobbing and weaving to attract the attention of the smaller females during their mating season.

The strutting, which includes a unique sound caused by sacs in the necks of the males, continued for an hour or so before the birds took their brief flights into the sagebrush to continue their day eating and avoiding predators.

If you did not know they were out there, no casual passer-by would have any clue that an age-old ritual was underway as it is every morning this time of year for the bistate sage grouse, a game bird that would not normally attract much attention from anyone but a coyote or hawk.

Our guide to see the birds was Tim Rubald, conservation district program manger for the Nevada Conservation and Natural Resources Department.

“This is the start of the circle of life for the sage grouse,” he said. “They breed and then they nest. The chicks are hatched and grow from little bitty balls of fuzz to 2- to 3- pound birds in about three months. Then it starts all over again.”

IN TROUBLE

The bird — related to the greater sage grouse found across much of Nevada and the West — has seen its numbers decline over the years. Some estimates put the loss at 50 percent from historic levels. Officials with several federal agencies, Nevada and California where the birds are found, along with ranchers and volunteers, are working to keep it from extinction.

The bistate sage grouse is a distinct population with a habitat from just south of Carson City in the Pine Nut Range to the White Mountains straddling the California-Nevada state line in Esmeralda County.

Loss of habitat and predators are two major reasons the birds are in decline.

Whether efforts to save the bird have so far been a success or failure depends on who you talk to.

A voluntary, coordinated effort by the federal government and the states, called the Sage Grouse Initiative, has been implemented to help increase the sage grouse populations. Nearly $20 million has been invested in conservation easements and habitat improvements to help them thrive.

Thad Heater, national coordinator of the Sage Grouse Initiative for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service in Reno, said there is a strong commitment among many partners, from state and local government agencies to ranchers and volunteers who perform lek counts to improve the health of the bird populations.

This voluntary conservation partnership is responsible for significantly reducing long-term threats to the bistate sage grouse, the agency said. The Bi-State Action Plan, a conservation plan developed by partners in the Bi-State Local Area Working Group over the past 15 years, is secured with $45 million from various partners.

“We’re ‘all in’ to make a difference for this bird over the long term,” Heater said.

LISTING AS THREATENED REJECTED

In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bistate sage grouse “distinct population segment” as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency cited multiple threats to the grouse and their habitats, including livestock grazing, the spread of invasive species, range fires, urban sprawl, mining, energy development, recreation and climate change.

The population has been defined as distinct because genetic analysis shows it has been separated from other greater sage grouse for thousands of years and the differences are significant, the agency said.

But in April 2015, the agency announced its decision to withdraw the proposed listing based on the success of voluntary conservation efforts to recover this species and its habitat.

The agency noted that the conservation effort has reduced long-term threats to the bird, a population estimated at 1,800to 7,400 inhabiting about 4.5 million acres on the California-Nevada border.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said last year the decision not to list the population showed that conservation strategies can be effective, allowing both the bird and economic development to coexist.

CONSERVATION GROUPS SUE

But a number of conservation groups disagree with the decision, and last month they filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco saying the voluntary efforts have not reversed a decline in the numbers of the bird.

“This is an example of politics trumping science while the extinction of a unique population of sage grouse hangs in the balance,” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we have seen for more than a decade, these voluntary measures are not enough; without the legal protections of the Endangered Species Act, the sage grouse in (the) Mono Basin have continued to decline, sliding toward extinction.”

Sage grouse populations in the bistate area are isolated from each other by unsuitable habitats, the groups said in announcing the lawsuit. Overall, not one of the bistate sage grouse populations is estimated to exceed 2,400 birds, far below the 5,000-bird threshold scientists consider the minimum viable population for this distinct population of sage grouse, the groups said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both exaggerated sage grouse population estimates and ignored major threats facing these rare birds,” said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians.

Listing the bird would provide legal protections and require analysis of effects that are not required under the voluntary measures.

VOLUNTARY EFFORTS

Before the Sage Grouse Initiative began in 2010, easements to protect the bird were rare. But in recent years, 7,300 acres of key habitat has been preserved in perpetual conservation easements with more in progress, federal officials announced last year. This is in addition to the 4,000-acre bistate easement completed in 2013 with the the Nature Conservancy.

Habitat has also been restored. Nearly 4,000 acres of sagebrush-steppe have been improved by selective removal of encroaching pinyon and juniper trees, which provide a perch for birds that hunt the grouse. Another 1,620 acres were expected to be completed by the end of last year, bringing a total investment to $1.1 million.

Although the future of the bird remains a question mark, the sage grouse in the Smith Valley had more immediate objectives during the recent visit. The males strutted, trying to impress the females, and they would be back at it again the next day.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

ad-high_impact_4
Local
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like