Q: I have read many articles in regard to the concerns of government officials and ranchers that sage grouse may soon become an endangered species.
Can you explain to me and other Statesman readers why there is still a legal hunting season for sage grouse in 14 Idaho counties?
A: Hunting for sage grouse is allowed in Idaho because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded the present level of hunting shows no signs of being a significant threat to the birds.
Since the sage grouse is a candidate for threatened or endangered species, it is still managed by the states.
The federal agency said that with the loss of habitat and other considerations, such as outbreaks of West Nile in local populations, states and the tribes need to carefully manage hunting through adjusting seasons, the number of birds taken by hunters annually and to implement emergency hunting closures if necessary.
The Idaho Fish and Game has been reviewing and managing hunter harvest of sage grouse since 2008.
The state agency began following hunting season and bag-limit guidelines in its "Conservation Plan for the Greater Sage-grouse in Idaho."
Each year Fish and Game evaluates population trends in 14 sage-grouse-hunting zones and compares the data to the guidelines.
In addition, Fish and Game and 11 local sage-grouse groups consider whether there are other issues of concern that may be affecting sage grouse, such as wildfires and West Nile outbreaks.
That's why the Fish and Game Commission waits until August each year to set hunting seasons. The commission considers population trends, local issues and public input.
Since implementing the guidelines, the annual hunter take of sage grouse has decreased significantly. In the past three years, harvest has averaged 2,900 sage grouse per year. That's compared with 19851995, when an estimated 37,500 sage-grouse were taken annually by hunters in Idaho.
Circumstances can change each year when it comes to sage grouse.
The guidelines allow for a hunting opportunity in areas of healthy sage-grouse populations, while also closing areas to hunting where population numbers are low or are affected by large fires or other habitat issues.
This year, the sage-grouse-hunting season was limited to seven days in 12 of the 14 hunting zones in Idaho, with two zones being closed to hunting.
Meanwhile, state and federal agencies continue to work with local sage-grouse groups on conservation projects, such as re-seeding after wildfire, building fire breaks and controlling weeds, which are considered critical for maintaining sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem in which they live. For more information, go to fishandgame.idaho.gov and click on "Wildlife" and "Sage Grouse."