Results from North Dakota’s spring sage grouse survey indicate the number of strutting males observed remains well below management objectives. Therefore, the sage grouse hunting season will remain closed in 2013.
Aaron Robinson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department upland game bird biologist, said biologists counted a record low 50 males on 11 active strutting grounds earlier in May. Last year, 72 males were counted on 12 active leks in the southwest.
“The most plausible reason why the population declined so dramatically this year was the severe drought the southwest experienced last summer,” Robinson said. “Sage grouse live in very arid dry areas, and in severe drought and heat, chicks are not able to find insects, which account for almost 100 percent of their diet while they are growing. This vital source of protein is necessary for development of young chicks and drought typically reduces the availability of insects.”
Due to the abnormal rainfall and dry conditions from last summer, Robinson said the potential for a successful nesting season this year is slim due to limited residual grass cover.
“We have learned from our recent research conducted in North Dakota that sage grouse rely heavily on residual grass cover for concealment during nesting season,” he added. “Without grass cover, mortality of females on nests increases and the probability that the nest will be depredated also increases. The outlook for a favorable hatch this year does not look optimistic.”
Sage grouse management in North Dakota has followed a specific plan developed by a diverse group of participants. The plan outlines hunting harvest objectives for the species, with a recommendation that the hunting season close if the spring census indicates fewer than 100 males in the population. If the spring breeding population increases above 100 males, Game and Fish Department biologists will evaluate if a hunting season is plausible given the threats facing the species in North Dakota.
Sage grouse are North Dakota’s largest native upland game bird. They are found in extreme southwestern North Dakota, primarily in Bowman and Slope counties.