PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks Department wants to close the state’s hunting season on sage grouse after fewer male birds were seen dancing on their mating grounds this year.
Biologists counted fewer than 220 males this spring, below the 250-bird hunting threshold in the state’s sage grouse management plan. The spring of 2016 showed nearly 280 males, the Capital Journal reported.
Drought hit the state’s sage grouse range last summer. Chick survival was low last year, leading to fewer adults this year, according to Travis Runia, a senior upland-game biologist.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered placing sage grouse on its list of threatened or endangered species less than five years ago. But an unexpected effort on behalf of state and federal agencies, private industry and private conservation organizations, was able to slow and even reverse the declines in sage grouse populations.
“We were starting to recover quite nicely,” Runia said.
He said one positive is that the state’s sage grouse habitat is almost entirely intact because there hasn’t been much crop tillage or oil and gas development in northwest South Dakota.
Runia said the Game, Fish and Parks Department is trying to better understand how best to manage sage grouse by helping fund a research project focused specifically on the birds. He said the information can ultimately help keep the birds off the endangered-species list.