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In an effort to enhance the genetics of two populations of sage grouse in the state of Washington, 25 of the birds were recently trapped in Nevada and transported to that state where they were released.

Biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently worked with the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) to capture the birds from several locations in northern Nevada. All 25 of the birds were females.

“Washington has isolated populations of sage grouse which would benefit from an infusion of new genetic material,” said Craig Mortimore, NDOW staff biologist. “By taking birds from a different population that was geographically separated, new genes will be added to the gene pool.”

Sage grouse numbers in Washington have declined in recent decades, as they have throughout the West. Today that state has only two populations of the birds, and they are separated from one another.

Nevada’s birds were taken from leks, which are the strutting grounds where the birds do their mating rituals each spring. It is believed that most or all of the sage grouse were inseminated before being trapped. Their young will then be hatched in Washington.

“Hopefully the hens will survive and mate with cocks in Washington next year. This could result in offspring that may ultimately improve the genetics of Washington’s sage grouse,” said Mortimore.

An example of a genetic improvement could be the ability of sage grouse in
Washington to better digest sagebrush leaves, upon which they rely for food. This trait would improve their survivability.

The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners approved giving the sage grouse to Washington during a meeting in early February. Locations for the trapping were selected by NDOW and biologists from Washington conducted the actual trapping.
Nevada is currently undergoing extensive sage grouse conservation efforts in order to protect sage grouse and sage grouse habitat.

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