Living with Sage Grouse
We live in sage grouse country.
We have a sage grouse lek (mating area) on our deeded land about 1/4 mile from the house and we observe the birds frequently year-round all over the ranch including in our yard. We have, as a result, learned a great deal about these birds. As a result of living with these really cool birds around us for the last 17 plus years we know that some of what people read and hear about the sage grouse is true, and a fair amount is just simply BS.
What everyone needs to understand is that while the sage grouse needs and deserves appropriate management and protection, the intent of those who seek to list the sage grouse as an endangered species are primarily interested in the elimination of cattle grazing on Federal land. To that end they have tried to show that cattle grazing is harming the sage grouse.
My Dad was often fond of saying that only a mean SOB would resort to proof to win an argument. Well, I guess that makes me a mean SOB.
We graze cattle....and....we have a sustainable population of sage grouse.
Wow, imagine that!
The anti-grazing folks say our barbed wire fences are harmful to the grouse. I can't begin to tell you what a bunch of crap that is. We have 13 miles of four strand barbed wire, including 1\2 mile that runs right through the lek area. We watch the grouse move through the fences all the time. We have seen them fly through the fences. We've seen them fly through the guy wires of our wind turbine tower. In 17 years I have seen only one grouse killed near a fence, and the feathers and parts were spread over 100 square feet. Exactly what you would find when a coyote kills a grouse.
The anti-cow folks say that erecting buildings and structures will chase the grouse away. Once again, they're wrong. Oh sure, if you put in a subdivision, the grouse will move elsewhere. However, we are ranchers, not land developers. Our cattle working facility and corral are on the lek area, and the birds couldn't care less. They roost in the squeeze chute and do their mating dance in and around the corral. Obviously not at the same time as when we are working cattle, but when we aren't up there the birds think it's a great place to hang out. You ought to see all the grouse poop in the squeeze chute. We have sage grouse in our yard and around the buildings frequently. We have sage grouse mommas bring their babies into the yard and they play under our vehicles. We have photos!
Another myth running around is that petroleum development needs to be eliminated to protect sage grouse. The facts simply don't support this contention. In the area around us there are hundreds of gas wells, and many miles of buried pipelines with their support facilities and access roads. Some of these wells date back into the 1920's with newer wells drilled in just the last few years. There have been seismic surveys conducted within the last few years that covered our land and hundreds of square miles all around us. The grouse are still here!
There are, however, factors that do negatively impact the sage grouse population.
Believe or not, the sage grouse is still listed as an upland game bird in Montana and while hunting of the bird has been restricted some areas, there is still a hunting season for sage grouse.
How dumb is that?
Predators, predators, predators!
There is a large and growing amount of research that is showing that the single biggest negative impact on the long term survival of the sage grouse is predation.
Adult birds are subject to predation by coyotes, and we see the unmistakable signs of that every year as we travel around the ranch. However, the bigger problem by far is the raiding of the grouse nests by crows and ravens.
While a coyote might get one bird, a crow or raven can raid a nest, eat the eggs, and effectively kill nine birds at one time. Even if they don't eat all the eggs, the sage hen does not return to the nest. Immediate decrease in population.
We have always had a few crows around, but few ravens. We now see ravens frequently, and in much greater numbers. That creates a big problem as crows can be hunted, but ravens are a protected species.
Yup. So you list the sage grouse and it gets eaten by another listed species. That'll work pretty good!
So far the only attempt to control the cervids (crows and ravens) around here is the decision by the BLM to cut down most of the trees on our grazing allotment, thus eliminating places for the cervids to perch. I'm not kidding. I have a copy of the EIS.
All the crows and ravens I see are flying or sitting on the ground in the sage brush, or on a fence post.
The bottom line is that those who purport to "save" the sage grouse have an agenda that involves the elimination of cattle grazing, and other activities, that in reality have little if any impact on the survival of this really cool bird.
The sage grouse is just another "tool" like the spotted owl, and the prairie dog.
"I long for the time when phones were dumb, and people were smart!"