The Sage Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse One

The name for this column is a fun double or triple pun:  the author is supposedly sage but inclined to eschew political correctness.  Nonetheless, the Greater Sage-grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus,  a big fat slow-flying bird (which in my opinion bears no more resemblance to chickens than plump pheasants or partridge) requires much serious analysis.

What and who am I to comment on Greater Sage-grouse?  Well, first I know how to properly hyphenate the name.

I have been a game bird hunter for many decades, but I decided five years ago to stop shooting sage-grouse.  Four reasons: First, I make enough money that I do not need to eat sage-grouse to survive; what a relief.  Second, they don’t taste very good; I can find a lot of ways to set a better table.  Third, they reproduce slowly and are under a lot of stress and why should I add to their stress level?  Fourth, the game and fish agencies allow shooting of hens during hunting season, a practice which is not allowed for the introduced Chinese Ring-necked pheasant; why do we protect pheasant hens and slaughter sage-grouse hens?

I bought an irrigated farm/ranch in central Montana, with a partner, and we jumped into a plan to pay for the ranch with cattle and improve sage-grouse and wildlife habitat at the same time.  My degree in botany and a few years of studying sage-grouse behavior as an amateur birder helped a little.  Not!  I was way over my head.

I learned a lot:

  1. It is very hard to keep a grazing tenant happy while fencing his cows out of the best creek bottom bird habitat.
  2. It is very hard to keep your partner who works for National Wildlife Federation happy while letting the grazing tenant actually graze the cows on the rest of the habitat.
  3. It is very difficult to get the organizations which espouse setting aside agricultural habitat for birds to actually put their money to use for such set-asides.
  4. There is nothing more fun than walking through an alfalfa meadow in August that did not get mowed, and seeing dozens of sage-grouse chicks and pheasants run around eating bugs and stuff.

Later, we must examine:

  • Industry impacts on sage-grouse
  • Overgrazing impacts on sage-grouse
  • BLM policies on grazing and sage-grouse
  • Sod-busting and sage-grouse

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