Fish & Wildlife - Region 6
Monday, April 30, 2012
A two-year sage grouse trapping project that captured a total of 40 birds on the northern Montana prairie for translocation to Alberta has been completed.
In Canada sage grouse are classified as an endangered species, and wildlife officials say their numbers in southeastern Alberta have declined about 80 percent since 1970. In an effort to increase the population of birds there, Alberta biologists in 2010 asked permission to capture up to 40 sage grouse in Montana and bring them across the international border for re-establishment.
Last year biologists and technicians with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, a ministry within the provincial government, were hampered by poor weather and were only able to capture and moved nine of the birds from southern Phillips County. The final trapping and transferring of 31additional birds from sites in southern Valley County took place over the past few weeks.
“Unlike last year, this year we had excellent weather and operating conditions, which allowed everything to go smoothly,” said FWP Region 6 Biologist Kelvin Johnson, who coordinated the project on the United States’ side. “The releases also took place without any problems. To date, the birds there appear to be keying in on the habitat. Some birds also appear to be nesting.”
The trapping project involved locating the birds during the day at their breeding display areas, commonly known as leks, and coming back to capture them at night using all-terrain vehicles, spotlights and long-handled nets.
A total of 37 female sage grouse and three males were captured and moved. All captured and released birds were fitted with GPS radios to allow Canadian biologists to follow them and determine their survival and reproductive success.
Biologists say the Canadian birds are naturally associated with the northern Montana sage grouse. In many areas of Montana, particularly in FWP Region 6, sage grouse numbers remain steady and strong because important habitat has been protected.
“This translocation came out of a larger, cooperative conservation and habitat effort called the Northern Sage Brush Steppe Initiative, which has resulted in close coordination over the last six years for the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana wildlife agencies,” said FWP Region 6 Supervisor Pat Gunderson.
The sage grouse translocation project – which underwent public review in an Environmental Assessment and approval by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission -- is not expected to negatively impact overall bird numbers. In Valley and Phillips counties the estimated minimum spring population of sage grouse has been 15,000 birds over the past five years.
“We feel that helping Alberta wildlife managers maintain their sage grouse population will help to keep the birds off the endangered species list in the United States by maintaining and hopefully expanding their overall range,” Gunderson said.