GREEN RIVER - To date, there's been almost no success in the private breeding of Western sage grouse for hunting on commercial bird farms. Nor has anybody really shown an interest in doing so in Wyoming.
But if it's going to happen, the Game and Fish Department will be ready.
Agency officials have scheduled a series of meetings across the state to discuss the department's first regulation governing sage grouse raised on private game bird farms.
The state already has rules for such species as partridge, pheasant, quail and migratory game birds. But lawmakers during the 2008 session directed the agency to establish specific regulations for private bird farms that raise Western sage grouse.
"It wasn't like this was against the law before and this is going to allow it now … that was never the case," said Tom Christiansen, the Game and Fish Department's program coordinator for sage grouse.
"There was never any (laws) out there preventing it. … For example, a pheasant farm could be raising sage grouse now if they chose to," he said. "This just defines how someone - if they thought they were interested in it - would have to go about doing it."
Because there's no available commercial source of sage grouse or their eggs - as there is for pheasants and quail, for example - bird farm operators will be allowed to collect sage grouse eggs under the proposed regulations, Christiansen said.
"Sage grouse are notoriously difficult to raise in captivity and to propagate, and that's why nobody is doing it now," he said. "It's going to be a very difficult hurdle for somebody to actually take this regulation and put it into practice."
Audubon Society members said Monday they strongly oppose "captive husbandry" for sage grouse and the creation of sage grouse farms under the new regulations. The group's officials believe current research and expert opinion have demonstrated the animal husbandry techniques are not in place to implement a sage grouse bird farm program.
Brian Rutledge, executive director of Audubon Wyoming, said to date there has been little success in raising prairie or forest grouse species, even within professional zoo captive rearing programs.
He said the "learning curve" for any successful program will come at a high price and with a high mortality rate for Wyoming sage grouse.
"Nobody, nobody has raising grouse down to a science. … This is just a thoroughly bad idea, in particular to pass it off to amateurs," Rutledge said. "We're all for effective captive management … but all the experts believe we're at least three to six years away from developing the protocols to ensure a successful program."
The grouse has lost about nine-tenths of its once 2 million population in Western states and Canada since the early 19th century.
The chicken-sized bird is found mostly on the sagebrush plains and high desert in Wyoming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently in the process of determining whether sage grouse should be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The state Game and Fish Department has undertaken the mapping and identification of habitat areas in Wyoming most critical to the bird, but believes sage grouse populations in Wyoming are high enough to prevent a listing of the bird at this time.
Wyoming has also instituted eight statewide working groups to help identify projects to help the sage grouse, including restoring habitat, purchasing easements on ranchlands and improving livestock grazing. Several oil and gas companies have also contributed to sage grouse-related projects in recent years.
Under the proposed regulations, a maximum of 75 sage grouse eggs may be collected by licensed bird farm operators during a calendar year. The licensee may collect sage grouse eggs for a total of three consecutive years in order to establish a captive flock that can be used for propagation.
Eggs could be collected from individual nests located within Game and Fish-designated areas. No more than 10 sites will be used for egg collection in any single area.
Game and Fish biologists may supervise the collection of sage grouse eggs to assure minimal impacts on nesting sage grouse, Christiansen noted.
The proposed regulations said if the agency determines there is an unacceptable impact to nesting sage grouse, the department shall not allow the licensee to collect the eggs.
But Rutledge said the proposal to collect eggs is a big concern.
"We're inviting people to go out during the most critical time of the year and kick under every bush. … Is the Game and Fish saying they're going to have someone there at all times to make sure the guy doesn't get frustrated and take every egg out of a nest?"
The proposed regulations also call for each licensee to release a minimum of 100 sage grouse each year on the licensed premises.
Sage grouse raised on game farms, however, can't be released in any area currently occupied by sage grouse, to alleviate potential disease and genetic concerns.
Southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino can be reached at 307-875-5359 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to attend?
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is holding a series of public meetings to discuss a proposed regulation governing sage grouse raised on private game bird farms. The meetings are scheduled for:
* Today: Green River, Jackson, Sheridan and Laramie regional offices; all meetings 7 p.m.
* Wednesday: Cody, Park County Courthouse, 7 p.m.; Lander regional office, 7 p.m.; Pinedale regional office, 4 p.m.
* Thursday: Casper regional office, 7 p.m.
Last we knew: During the 2008 Legislative session, Wyoming lawmakers directed the Game and Fish Department to draft a regulation governing sage grouse raised on private game bird farms.
The latest: The agency has released the proposed regulations for public review and comment.
What's next: The Game and Fish Commission will consider the proposal when the board meets Sept. 11-12 in Casper.