Wildlife scientists oppose sage grouse farming bill
By Christine Peterson 307-746-3121, Christine.Peterson@trib.com
Wyoming’s largest group of wildlife scientists announced recently it opposes a bill moving through the Wyoming Legislature that would allow private industry to raise sage grouse using eggs collected in the wild.
The bill, HB271, “is not supported by leading science on sage-grouse biology and management and has a high likelihood of resulting in a net negative for sage-grouse populations in Wyoming,” a statement from the Wyoming chapter of The Wildlife Society wrote.
In the bill, a licensed bird farm, under the regulations of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, would be able to collect up to 250 sage grouse eggs each year from the wild for use at the farm. A change that would have increased the number of eggs collected to 1,000 was stripped. Sage grouse are a native bird in Wyoming that only recently missed placement on the endangered species list.
Supporters of the bill say the birds could be used in conservation. They cited programs to breed sage grouse in captivity in other places. A farm in Powell, they recently told lawmakers, could add to the mix of places working on raising the chicken-sized bird.
Opponents cite two main problems. First is that sage grouse numbers are down in Wyoming because of a lack of habitat, not a lack of birds. Simply growing more birds and putting them on the landscape in areas that aren’t suitable would not increase the population, said Holly Copeland, president of the Wyoming chapter of The Wildlife Society.
Second, Copeland continued, is that the science behind raising sage grouse as proposed in the bill and successfully releasing them into the wild is lacking.
Studies touted by both proponents and opponents of the bill show that sage grouse can be reared in captivity but under very specific conditions, she said.
“In no way do these papers conclude or indicate potential success for the type of large-scale game farms put forth in HB0271,” the science organization’s letter to lawmakers continued.
Diamond Wings Upland Game Birds’ manager went before the Legislature in mid-February to talk about the bird farm’s plans.
“There’s a declining population of sage grouse, not only in Wyoming (but in) Montana and Canada,” farm manager Karl Bear said at the time. “There’s a lot of effort, millions of dollars being spent in habitat development and various conservation.”
Sam Yemington, an attorney for Bear’s employer, former Wyoming Senate President Diemer True, added that the birds could be used for hunting or possible conservation credits in the future.
Joy Bannon, field director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, referenced Wyoming’s work in sage grouse conservation through local working groups. Sage grouse farms have not been part of the conservation efforts, she said.
“Efforts to raise sage-grouse in captivity over a long period of time have resulted in failure,” Bannon said. “The current research and wildlife expert opinions have shown that the appropriate captive rearing techniques are not in place to successfully implement such game bird farms for sage grouse.”
The bill passed its second of three votes Friday in the Senate. It requires one more vote before it would go back to the House for final approval and then to Gov. Matt Mead for a signature.
Sen. John Hastert, a Green River Democrat, opposed the measure. He said it was creating a scenario in which a sensitive, prized species was becoming privatized.
“Our wildlife are priceless and belong to the people,” he said.
Political reporter Laura Hancock contributed to this report.