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October 14, 2010

Sage-grouse season opens with mixed results

By Ed Mitchell, IDFG

   Weather on opening weekend of the sage-grouse season was warm and dry, and hunter effort and success varied across the state.

   Most areas reported fewer than average hunters and grouse harvested, while the Southeast region checked a few more hunters than normal.

   Idaho Department of Fish and Game ran 12 check stations on Saturday, Sept. 18, and 11 on Sunday, targeting sage-grouse hunters throughout southern Idaho.

   Fish and Game personnel asked hunters about their success, number of hours hunted and numbers of birds they saw. They also collected a wing from each bird checked, which provides important information on annual productivity.

   Statewide, 873 hunters checked 448 birds this year, compared to 1,209 hunters and 875 birds in 2009. The number of hunters checked was down 37 percent from the 2006-2009 average. The number of grouse checked was down 49 percent from the 2006-2009 average.

   Hunter participation is presumed to be lower because of the shorter season in some areas compared to previous years. However, hunter participation was the lowest ever recorded in the Magic Valley region, though that region has had a seven-day season since 2007. Following the sage-grouse state plan, seasons were reduced because of a lower number of males counted on leks in the spring.

   Hunter success, as measured by birds per hunter, was down slightly in the Southwest and Upper Snake regions compared to last year, which makes sense with the reduced bag limit in those areas. Hunters in these areas, however, had to work a little harder than last year to get one bird. For example, on average it took more than two extra hours to harvest a bird in the Upper Snake than last year. In contrast, hunters in the Magic Valley and Southeast Idaho spent about an hour less than last year to harvest a bird.

   The sage-grouse hunting season is now closed for this year. The sage-grouse season is set annually in August and the season structure is adjusted up or down based on trends in spring lek counts. These data are collected by biologists and volunteers throughout southern Idaho, who visit 517 leks on 77 lek routes four times each spring.

   Sage-grouse is on the list of candidates for the federal endangered species list. Earlier in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found listing sage-grouse was warranted but precluded by other, more pressing, needs. Candidate species are still state-managed species and hunting is legal. Hunting sage-grouse is allowed in most western states where the birds are found.

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