Aaron Robinson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department upland game bird biologist, said biologists counted a record low 30 males on six active strutting grounds. Last year, 31 males were counted on the same leks in the southwest.
Sage grouse are a long-lived species with low reproductive output, which makes population recovery slow. Currently, Robinson said, natural reproduction cannot keep up with natural mortality, and the densities of active leks may be limiting hens from finding males to breed.
“It might be that our last chance to increase the genetic diversity of our population is if another state is willing to provide some birds for a translocation, but the success of such a project is not guaranteed either,” Robinson said.
However, Robinson said the potential for a successful nesting season is good this year due to abundant residual grass cover brought about by last summer’s rainfall. “The outlook for a favorable hatch this year looks optimistic for the limited number of birds we have in the state,” he added.
Sage grouse management in North Dakota follows a specific plan developed by a diverse group of participants. With the threats facing the species and the decline in population, Game and Fish Department biologists do not foresee a hunting season in the near future.
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.