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Sage grouse chick production declines in 2016

Cheyenne – New data on the Wyoming sage grouse population reveals bird numbers will likely decline in the coming year based on an analysis of sage grouse wings provided by hunters. This follows three years of population increases. In 2016, there were 0.9 chicks per hen, down from 1.7-1.8 documented in 2014 and 2015. This ratio is near the low of 0.8 chicks per hen noted in 2012. The 10-year average, from 2006-2015, was 1.2 chicks per hen. Grouse numbers declined in most of those years.

The generally cold and wet spring likely reduced nest success and chick survival.

“Spring moisture is a double-edged sword,” said Tom Christiansen, sage grouse program coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “It helps the habitat, but if it is too cold and wet, hens abandon flooded nests and newly hatched chicks die from exposure.”

Researchers following radio-marked sage grouse across the state also reported low nest success and chick survival in 2016.

Hunters contribute to the management of sage grouse by assisting the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in the data collection through legal, regulated hunting. Wing data is gathered from hunters who voluntarily deposit wings in barrels scattered across central and southwest Wyoming. Over 2,000 wings were deposited in 2016.

“While it is unfortunate to see the decline in chick production, sage grouse populations in Wyoming appear to cycle, and we experienced three consecutive years of growth from 2014-2016 and so a downturn is not unexpected,” Christiansen said. “We appreciate hunters who provided wings. Their participation helps us manage the bird and build on previous years’ data.”