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Editor:

Open letter to Wyoming State Legislators:

The state of Wyoming’s approach to Greater sage-grouse conservation has historically been a good process. Unfortunately, the present effort to establish a captive breeding program for the species is, at best, mistaken. As accomplished wildlife biologists, as well as long-term members of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team as well as a local working group, it is our considered opinion the determination to breed Greater sage-grouse in captivity for release to the wild contains far greater risk than it offers reward.

From biological as well as economic points of view we have many concerns; however our main concerns are as follows:

1. Collection of eggs from naturally occurring nests will likely disturb the nesting female and result in a much lower likelihood of nest success.

2. Birds reared in captivity (a process seldom accomplished with this species) will lack place-based survival skills, known to be very important for sage-grouse.

3. Birds bred in captivity and exposed to other captive populations, especially of other species, may acquire and harbor disease. Upon release this could become a vector for delivering deadly disease to the wild population.

4. The process of maintaining genetic diversity in lek breeding species like sage-grouse is not well understood, and the long-term consequences to the species of randomly distributing genetic material across the landscape are unknown but could result in substantial unintended consequences.

Most importantly, this is not a Greater Sage-grouse population issue. It is, however, an issue of a lack of quality and quantity of appropriate habitat. The peer reviewed literature supports that effective management of sage-grouse results from a focus on protecting and enhancing sagebrush habitats as the State of Wyoming has implemented through their Sage-grouse Core Area Management program (WY Executive Order 2015-4).

HB271 disregards the work of the citizens tasked by the State (local working groups) to conserve sage-grouse in Wyoming's working landscapes. If the Legislature would like to invest in the conservation of Greater Sage-grouse, a greater effort such as habitat restoration and enhancement through established working groups, state agencies etc. would be much more effective than focusing efforts towards a captive breeding program.

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BRIAN RUTLEDGE, National Audubon Society, Central Flyway Conservation Strategy and Policy Advisor

ALISON HOLLORAN, Executive Director, Audubon Rockies

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