Low populations of two bird species native to eastern
Washington’s shrub-steppe habitat got a boost this spring with
relocation efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and
Greater sage grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, both
listed by the state for protection as threatened species, were
relocated to WDFW’s Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area in Lincoln County.
Each relocated grouse is equipped with radio-telemetry that enables
biologists to monitor their survival and movements.
Thirty-seven sage grouse captured from healthy populations near
Vale, Ore., were released on the wildlife area in late March. It
was the fifth such release since 2008 on the state wildlife area
and adjacent U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) shrub-steppe
habitat south of Creston.
Twenty sharp-tailed grouse captured from healthy populations
near Burley, Idaho, were released on another part of the wildlife
area in late April. It was the seventh such release since 2005.
WDFW Wildlife Biologist Mike Atamian of Spokane reported that
some of the released male sage grouse almost immediately joined
other resident males on a lek, a group mating dance ground where
males vie to breed with females.
“We capture and relocate both these shrub-steppe species at this
time of year to take advantage of their focus on mating,” Atamian
said. “It increases the chance of them adapting to their new
Sage grouse are the largest native grouse, at nearly two-feet
long and about four pounds in weight. Sharp-tailed grouse are
roughly half that size. Both species historically numbered in the
tens of thousands and ranged throughout eastern Washington
shrub-steppe and Palouse grasslands.
Grouse range and numbers have been greatly reduced by removal of
native vegetation and other disturbances, leaving only remnant
populations of sharp-tailed grouse in Douglas, Lincoln and Okanogan
counties and sage grouse primarily in Yakima and Douglas counties.
Both species were listed by the state as threatened in 1998 and
have been federal species of concern since 2001.
The state population of sage grouse is estimated to be just
under 1,200 birds; sharp-tailed grouse are estimated at just over
800 birds. WDFW recovery plans call for restoring habitat and
continuing relocation efforts until populations of about 3,200
birds of each species can be sustained.
Cooperators in Washington grouse recovery include the BLM, the
Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife, the Idaho Department of Fish
and Game, Washington State University, Colville Confederated
Tribes, and multiple volunteers. Relocation and monitoring efforts
are funded by federal grants through BLM and the U.S. Fish and