The state Game and Fish Department is working on plans to increase the number of sage grouse in southwestern North Dakota.
The state is on the eastern edge of the sage grouse habitat – and they’re found primarily in Bowman, Slope and Golden Valley counties. Game and Fish upland game biologist Aaron Robinson of Dickinson says the bird’s numbers have been cut in half over the last 20 years, and many of the birds died from West Nile Virus. He says the birds are in danger of being placed on the Endangered Species List. So, he says states throughout the West are working on ways to build the numbers.
"Because our population is so low, we may be at a genetic bottleneck with these birds," Robinson told the state Board of Animal Health. "Natural reproduction is not occurring to outweigh the natural mortality."
Robinson says Game and Fish is working with Montana to transport female sage grouse to North Dakota. He called it an intense process.
"We have to capture these birds at night," said Robinson. "We have to release them the very next morning. We cannot hold them for more than 8 hours. If we do, their mortality rate skyrockets, because they're a very sensitive species."
Robinson says the female bird will likely be brought to North Dakota via airplane, then will be released in natural dancing grounds.
Robinson says Game and Fish is also doing work on habitat for the birds. He says there’s an urgency to build up the grouse population – because if the bird is put on the endangered list, it could affect such things as oil drilling and farming and ranching.