These days, there’s a lot of talk out West about a game bird called the greater sage grouse. This chicken-sized bird lives in the sagebrush country in places like Wyoming, southern Idaho, southeastern Oregon and Nevada.
Western sportsmen have enjoyed hunting sage grouse in open sagebrush country for generations. Unfortunately this great tradition is in jeopardy. Populations have been declining for years, so much so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the bird for possible listing as threatened and endangered – a decision that would end sage grouse hunting for the foreseeable future.
As sportsmen, maintaining robust populations of all kinds of wildlife should be one of our top priorities. That we could lose the opportunity to hunt such an iconic game bird should be a wake-up call.
The story of the sage grouse is a sadly familiar one; the loss of crucial habitat throughout the range has led to steadily declining populations. While there are places throughout the West where robust populations exist, the Fish and Wildlife Service is mostly concerned with the overall trend – not just in population numbers but also the continuing loss of quality habitat throughout the range.
Like another Western icon, the mule deer, sage grouse need a variety of habitat types, including summer and winter range and breeding areas, all of which are highly dependent on the West’s fickle – and often extreme – weather patterns. The decline of the sage grouse closely correlates with decreasing mule deer populations in the West. Each is highly dependent on healthy sage brush ecosystems, and as the health of the sagebrush ecosystem declines, so too do the populations of wildlife that rely on them.
One of the biggest threats to the sagebrush ecosystem is wildfire. Dramatic changes in the wildfire ecology in sagebrush country, has largely been driven by the proliferation of cheatgrass. Once this invasive exotic grass gets established, in and among sagebrush, it causes wildfires to burn hotter and faster. Instead of less intense, slow moving “cool fires” that tend to be beneficial, cheatgrass causes very hot, fast moving fires that completely destroy many hundreds of thousands of acres of prime sagebrush habitat. Then after the fires, cheatgrass outcompetes other native plants making it difficult for the beneficial natives to reestablish. The result is millions of acres converted from healthy sagebrush plant communities to cheatgrass monocultures, leading to more frequent and hotter-burning wildfires that are harder to contain – and often spread to other areas of healthy sagebrush, continuing the cycle.
Energy development such as oil, gas and wind energy is another major threat to sage grouse. Both traditional and renewable projects and their associated infrastructure like roads and pipelines reduce the quantity and quality of sagebrush habitat, translating into lost hunting opportunities down the road. While most sportsmen agree that we need domestic energy, the real challenge is going to be balancing this need with the need to protect high quality habitat here in the West.
The TRCP is working with sportsman’s groups and state fish and game agencies across the West to identify valuable public lands fish and wildlife habitat and develop strategies to conserve them. Here in Nevada, local sportsman’s organizations and the Nevada Department of Wildlife are partnering in this effort. We’re discovering that much of the high value habitat for animals like mule deer, pronghorn antelope and elk overlaps with areas of core sage grouse habitat. The lesson is clear: quality hunting and fishing relies on quality habitat and sage grouse conservation in sagebrush habitats will benefit multiple species of wildlife including those pursued by sportsmen.
An endangered listing for the sage grouse would have far reaching consequences here in the West – and not just for sportsmen. Ranching, mining, energy production and the economies of many small towns and rural areas all would feel the effects.
Sportsmen need to be aware of what’s going on and get involved. It’s not enough to avoid listing the sage grouse; we need to make sure that habitat conditions in the West are improving so that fish and wildlife populations remain healthy and so that sustainable harvest will continue to be part of our wildlife conservation heritage. The TRCP is working directly with our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., as well as with local and state governments to focus efforts on protecting existing habitat and developing new strategies to tackle this challenge. Sign up as a TRCP Western Sportsman Advocate to stay informed and take action on issues that affect our Western hunting and fishing heritage.
Recreational Fishing goes Global in Las Vegas at ICAST 2013
This year, the American Sportfishing Association is bringing the world’s largest sportfishing trade show, the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, better known as ICAST, back to Las Vegas. ICAST is being held July 9 – 12, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev. From buyers to media to exhibitors, ICAST 2013 is expected to host close to 10,000 representatives from the international sportfishing community who conduct business, network with industry leaders and see all the latest innovations in gear, apparel and accessories.
For the first time, ICAST and the International Fly Tackle Dealer show, the fly tackle-specific show produced by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, are co-locating in the North Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center on the same days and the same show hours. The “all under one roof” marketplace for fishing is attractive to both the domestic and the international exhibitor and attendee in terms of travel, number of shows to attend and other aspects of show exhibiting and attendance. The show will appear seamless since there will be no partition between ICAST and IFTD and one badge permits access to both shows
“The ‘world’s largest recreational fishing trade show’ is a sure bet for domestic and international exhibitors, buyers and media,” said ICAST Trade Show Director Kenneth Andres. “Throughout its 56-year history, ICAST has encompassed all aspects of recreational fishing. With the co-location of IFTD, buyers, media and all members of the global fishing industry can see everything the fishing industry has to offer.”
Farm: Wagners Inc., near Roslyn, S.D., a closely held family operation. Ryan and Kerri and Ryan’s dad are majority owners and manage the operation.
Acreage: 4,000 acres and also custom farm for others
Row Crops: Corn, soybean and spring wheat
Family: Three children: Grady – 4 ½ years; Anna — 2 ½ years; and Harrison – 7 months
History: Ryan’s grandfather moved to South Dakota to farm in the 1950s; Ryan’s dad and uncles operated the farm in the 1980s. Ryan moved back in 2007 and continues to work with his dad full-time on the farm. The Wagners used to have a diversified operation, including a cattle feedlot until 2004.
Conservation: Wagners Inc. is 100 percent continuous no till, and has been practicing no till for more than 30 years. Ryan’s dad first implemented the practice as a means to conserve moisture. Now they know the additional benefits of soil health and maintaining organisms in the soil. The Wagners have also participated in the federal Conservation Stewardship Program since its early days. Conservation is almost second nature to the region, Ryan says, noting the unique topographical challenges of the Prairie Pothole region of South Dakota.
Why are you participating in the Conservation Exchange?
It gives me an opportunity to go to another part of the country where I can learn some new management practices. I’m also curious about aquaculture as a possible market for soybean meal for fish food.
What do you hope to learn?
Regardless of what industry we are in, we can learn management tips, tricks of trade. I’m also interested in learning about their culture. And I’m looking forward to teaching about our industry and sharing with them.
What else: Ryan is a mechanical engineer and worked in that industry for five years before farming. His wife, Kerri, is a former high school math teacher and now is a full-time mother and farmer.
I work in wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s advocacy, an arena about which I am truly passionate. Nevertheless, I occasionally have days when I wonder why I bother.
Frustrations in one form or another – whether setbacks in the political process or the challenges inherent in educating hunters and anglers about policy issues – can make you want to bang your head against the wall.
But some moments make it all worthwhile. Recently after a particularly difficult week at the office, I sought some much-needed “mountain therapy” in the backcountry of Wyoming near my home. I tackled a relatively long and challenging hiking trail, which ascended to about 8,000 feet before leveling out along a ridgeline and providing spectacular, uninterrupted views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains.
As I climbed through the timber, my mind still on my work, I noticed a mule deer buck bedded just below the tree line. I stopped and sat with him a while, occasionally making eye contact, and as he showed no sign of being nervous about my presence, I quietly pulled out my video camera.
Now, before anyone comments that this is just a boring video clip of a deer doing nothing, I challenge you to look a little closer. To me, this video represents everything I work for, summarized in one brief minute.
In this video I see a healthy, mature mule deer buck, who in June already is showing promise of becoming the kind of buck that wanders through any mountain hunter’s dreams. His habitat, while designated for multiple uses such as energy development as well as recreation, is scientifically managed for his needs and is neither over-grazed nor overrun with development. His range is not fragmented by unnecessary roads and has clean water plentiful enough to grow the forage that keeps him in good body condition. While pressure from predators exists, his aging face is evidence of the fact he has learned to co-exist with the wolf pack whose den is within three miles of this sunny hillside.
When I look at this video I see evidence of responsible, science-based management of our fish and wildlife. And that makes me want to get up another day and continue to fight all of the seemingly uphill battles sportsmen face here in the West, whether it’s irresponsible energy development, lack of funding or the political erosion of our backcountry.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.