I, along with a liver-and-white springer spaniel named Sparky, and a few good friends religiously hunted the grouse opener for 15 years on the very sliver of grouse habitat in Grand County on the Book Cliffs. The first five years birds were everywhere; we easily got our limits each weekend. The second five years were years of dismay. Sometimes we only got one or two birds all weekend between two or three of us. The last five years were simply sad. The last three, we saw no birds at all.
Sage grouse flocks need to be large so when they all flush together it causes enough noise and confusion that a predator is flummoxed for just a second, long enough to get away. It works well with hunters also. Large flocks need space for food, cover, water, leks for breeding and overhead cover.
In Utah, the sage grouse population went from a viable, huntable and reproducing population to nearly nothing in 15 years. My observation is that as drill rigs and infrastructure and other development increased bird populations dramatically decreased
Utah tried numerous Band Aids and feeble attempts to convince the feds that all was well in regards to sage grouse. Lowering bag limits, shortening the hunting season and limiting hunting areas. All in all, it amounted to a sad joke.
Why is Grand County so interested in this debate? The county council readily admits there are no longer sage grouse in Grand County, and just a tiny amount of suitable habitat. I’m curious if this is just to lend credence and support to our neighboring counties which would just as soon have the only grouse in their counties in a display case in their museums?
Now, we come to Utah’s new plan to “save” the sage grouse and again convince the feds that all is well in hand. There are huge holes in this plan. The effects of grazing are ignored or dismissed as inconsequential. Land exchanges for energy companies don’t necessarily have to support and sustain healthy grouse populations.
This is spearheaded by Kathleen Clark, Gov. Gary Herbert’s “leading authority” on the subject. Her track record, in a word, is dismal. Forced to resign from the Bush Administration after whistle-blowers outed her for strong-arming biologists and scientists in their sage grouse research. If she received reports she didn’t like she simply doctored them to her liking. I can’t believe one word she has to say on the matter, unlike our county council.
I don’t care what one “believes” regarding the demise of the sage and Gunnison grouse in the West. I know what I have seen, witnessed and observed. I have studied the science since my grouse hunting days ended. They ended because I saw the writing on the wall and didn’t want to be part of the decline.
The sage grouse are the passenger pigeons of the West and the 21st century. The same tired, uninformed arguments were used about the passenger pigeons up to their demise are being used now about grouse.
These birds have provided food to inhabitants of the West for millennia, along with being a part of a cog in the wheel that keeps an ecosystem healthy and robust. They deserve protection either by threatened or endangered status.
They are icons of the American West and have earned at least honest protection, not ideological rhetoric and crap.
Norman Boyd is a businessman in Grand County. He is an avid outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman and a proponent of wise management of public lands, wildlife and resources. He lives in Moab with his wife Tawny, a springer spaniel, Lillie, and a terrier with a springer paint job, Trixie, and a very brave grey cat.