Sage Grouse

Gunnison sage grouse and greater sage grouse

The Glade Park/Pinon Mesa area has both the "greater sage grouse" and the "Gunnison sage grouse." The Gunnison sage grouse is being relentlessly pursued for listing as an endangered species. In this, and other areas, there has been a cooperative effort with land owners to preserve habitat for them. In fact, the Van Loan ranch agreed to a conservation easement specifically for the Gunnison sage grouse. In 2006 the evidence went against listing them, but the beat goes on. A new effort has been launched. There are always other enviro-political agendas behind these efforts - frequently the removal of cattle grazing. It is once again time to put this back on the radar and be sure we know what is going on.
Here is a link to an article in describing the current status on this issue as of September, 2010.

Gunnison Sage Grouse Becomes Endangered Species Candidate

Sage Grouse: "Species of Concern" or Wild Poultry Prankster?

Most of my early experience with sage grouse, spending summers at cow camp on Pinon Mesa, indicated that they must have a great sense of humor. I pictured them as the subject of a Gary Larson (Far Side) cartoon, plotting quietly in the brush to make sure your horse is almost on top of them before they burst into the air, flapping their wings to create a miniature thunder storm. The shock can cause even the gentlest ole’ kid horse to abruptly change locations, leaving the rider suspended in mid-air for an instant, before he straddles a sage brush. During those summers on Pinon Mesa, my brother Ron would occasionally shoot a couple of hens for our supper. There isn’t much there to eat, but perhaps the meal delivered a bit of dark retribution for their wild poultry pranks. That was many years ago, when a grouse was a grouse, before the real or perceived threat of extinction loomed over the Gunnison Sage Grouse.

In the Glade Park/Pinon Mesa area, we have just regular sage grouse and threatened Gunnison Sage Grouse. With the recent securing of a conservation easement on the Van Loan ranch, the future of the Gunnison Sage Grouse in the Glade Park and Pinon Mesa range should be more secure. The question remains whether it has ever been truly threatened. Jay and Dory, along with the other remaining ranches, have been good stewards of the land. The enviros have tried to blame cattle grazing for the alleged decline in populations. I have seen them co-exist, and have a hard time believing that cry is anything more than a way to try to take away grazing rights. The open space of ranches is all that is saving them. I think that the forty-acre folks, which I have joined, have more impact, setting houses in the middle of age old leks.

In pursuit of the facts I took on: "The Sage-grouse Population Trend Analysis: Final Report of Statistical Analysis" released November 15, 2005 by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It is a difficult read for the mathematically challenged, like myself. One of the first things I noticed is that wherever there is good news, it is qualified as probably being some kind of error. It seems at times the floosies have run around from one lek to another and got counted more than once. In case you don’t know, leks are where the roosters go to cruise for hens. These guys make a rave look tame. See the link at the bottom of this page to see them in action!


According to the research, the Glade Park/Pinon Mesa population had actually increased! "...based on leks counted in the Glade Park/Pinyon Mesa region suggests that THIS POPULATION HAS INCREASED AT A MEAN RATE CLOSE TO 10% PER YEAR SINCE 1995."(Capitalization is mine)

This is how they explain it:

"Given the high variation around the trend line and high probability of inverse density-dependence in the data the most descriptive model of population changes in this population is likely similar to the range-wide pattern, i.e. stochastic density-dependent pattern of population growth. This model suggests that the underlying pattern is probably closer to a stable population trend with a high level of variation around the equilibrium population approximately 16% above the 2005 count."

To summarize, when their own research tells them that there has been AN INCREASE (10% or 16% ?), they have to at least shave it back to being a just a stable population. But even if that is correct, it does not sound endangered. But what do I know. I am math phobic, and this report has way too much of it for my taste.

By the way, I looked "stochastic" up in the dictionary. It means: "of or pertaining to a process involving a randomly determined sequence of observations each of which is considered as a sample of one element from a probability distribution. Stochastic variation implies randomness as opposed to a fixed rate or relation in passing from one observation to the next in order"(Webster’s Unabridged). Now we know.


Regarding the Gunnison Basin, they go out on a limb and state that "the long term trend in population as indicated by the index based on lek counts is SLIGHTLY POSITIVE..." (CAPS mine).

The news is not so good for the San Miguel Basin. The lek counts indicate a "rapidly declining population (10% decline per year)”. If 10% a year is a RAPID decline, then what is the 10% INCREASE a year on Pinon Mesa? We did not see the use of “rapid” there! Anyway, it turns out, after all the mathematic and data gathering gyrations, "...the trend line becomes virtually flat, indicating a stable population through time." Hmm.

The Crawford counts at 5 leks shows a population that has varied from 25 to 55, but the math says it has "remained fairly flat from 1995 to 2005."

The last area is San Juan County, Utah. The overall trend has shown "a 3-fold decline from 1976 to 2005." That sounds scary. But if I am correct in interpreting their further explanation, it seems that there was an even shaper decline a ways back, but that has been followed by "...MORE STABLE AND POSSIBLY INCREASING NUMBERS TO THE PRESENT." (Yea, caps mine)

Having mustered up all the courage necessary for a math phobe to wade through this report, I have difficulty seeing a gloom and doom outlook for the GSG in these parts. Certainly not enough to interfere with grazing rights for the remaining ranches that help preserve the open space needed for the sage grouse raves.

For those of you who are either gifted in mathematic understanding, or just determined to try this for yourself, I am including a link to this report. Please let me know how you see it.

Gunnison Sage-Grouse Population Trend Analysis: Final Report of Statistical Analysis

BLM Gunnison Sage Grouse Conservation Plan

Here is a link to the Gunnison Sage Grouse website of Dr. Jessica Young, Western State College. It is an excellent place to view the sage grouse. It has a photo comparison between the Northern Sage Grouse, and the Gunnison Sage Grouse, and videos to allow you to watch each of them strut their stuff.

Watch them strut their stuff!

Federal Register, Tuesday, April 18, 2006: Final Listing Determination for the Gunnison Sage-grouse as Threatened or Endangered: Final Rule

This 30 page document is required reading for the sage-grouse aficionado. In spite of poking fun at the previous document, I do consider this a serious subject, and this report covers all aspects of it. As one would hope for an entry in the Federal Register, it is factual, well documented, and does not adopt an agenda of building a case for listing the sage grouse as endangered. Although the report is specifically concerned with the Gunnison Sage Grouse, much of the information is based upon research that also includes what is known about “the greater sage grouse.”

Some interesting points about the Piñon Mesa population:

• Habitat is 70% private, 28 % BLM (50 grazing allotments), and 2 % US Forest Service. • At the time of this report, 19% of the private habitat was protected by conservation easements. That is probably much higher now, since that addition of the Van Loan conservation easement.• The high percentage of private land, low amount of roads, and heavy snow cover in spring make location of leks more difficult. Therefore, the Piñon Mesa populations may be under-estimated. • No studies have indicated that regulated hunting is a primary cause of damage to sage grouse populations. • Predation is the most commonly identified cause of mortality.• Although sage brush removal and loss of tall grass for nesting cover are factors that affect grazing concerns, these aspects can be minimized by good management. • Fragmentation of habitat is a major problem, not only because it destroys habitat, but because it isolates populations, thus lowering the gene pool.• The report concludes that the Gunnison Sage Grouse “is not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

I thought that the Federal Register was public record, but they are blocking access to that site. Sorry the link is not working.

FED REG: Final Listing Determination for the Gunnison Sage Grouse/ACCESS DENIED?

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