Monday, March 07, 2011

Western Idaho Sharptails

Sage grouse command a lot of attention from conservationists (and we have more posts on sage grouse coming up soon). But there is another grouse that has an interesting conservation story in Idaho.

By the 1970s, everyone thought that the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse was lost—forever—from western Idaho.
Like sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse occupy established dancing grounds where males attract females each year. The birds disappeared from their western Idaho dancing grounds.

In 1977, a Bureau of Land Management manager accidentally discovered a small dancing ground on a private ranch near Midvale. He alerted Alan Sands, then a BLM biologist, of his discovery.

This prompted extensive searching efforts throughout Washington and Adams counties, resulting in the discover of three other dancing grounds, two more of which were on the same ranch.

In the early 1980s, the ranch came up for sale, and Sands sought the Conservancy’s help to acquire it. The Nature Conservancy worked with committed conservationists Tim and Karen Hixon, who donated funds to purchase the 4200-acre ranch, and worked with the BLM to designate 30,000 acres as critical habitat for these grouse.

Several years later, the Conservancy transferred most of the ranch to the BLM through a land exchange, retaining a core 200-acre parcel in the heart of the grouse display grounds.

Fast forward to today. What has changed? How are the grouse doing?

Well, Alan Sands is now an ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. Last year, 110 grouse were counted on the Conservancy’s Hixon Sharptail Project, part of a long-term upward trend (there were less than 25 birds in 1982).

Additionally, grouse have expanded beyond the project, with three new dancing grounds documented last year.

With your support, we’re working to continue to protect habitat and expand the grouse’s range, and to protect other vital bird habitat around Idaho.

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