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While southwestern North Dakota is on the edge of the sage grouse’s native range, the state still has an important role in improving long-term prospects for this large upland bird.

North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, along with North Dakota Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand, attended a meeting in Cheyenne, Wyo., last week to participate in discussions about a region-wide comprehensive sage grouse plan.

“North Dakota will continue to do its part to protect the sage grouse population and to avoid the need for endangered species status and the accompanying land-use restrictions,” Wrigley said.

Because of a long-term population decline throughout their native range, in 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The service determined that listing was warranted, but other species had a higher priority for federal recovery efforts. The service is scheduled to revisit sage grouse listing in 2015.

“Sage grouse have had a rough time the past decade or more, not just here, but in all the Western states where they exist,” Steinwand said. “While we’re on the periphery of their range and we don’t have a lot of these birds in North Dakota, we need to be part of the long-term population recovery plan.”

Part of that long-term plan is a series of public scoping meetings scheduled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Visit the BLM website for information on scoping meetings in North Dakota.

Listing under the ESA basically means that the federal government would assume primary management of sage grouse instead of the state, Steinwand said. “We’re committed to using whatever resources we can to help get those birds stabilized and headed in the other direction.”

In North Dakota, Steinwand added, a number of projects are already underway.

Highlights of Game and Fish involvement over the past several years include:

•Game and Fish has funded research over the past six years to determine species demographics such as survival, nest success, bird movements and reproduction success.
•Helped form a working group, in conjunction with a core group of local landowners, to provide information to agricultural producers about sage grouse conservation.
•Worked closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Bureau of Land Management on extensive sagebrush plantings designed to connect fragmented areas and provide incentives to local landowners.
•Provided funding and piggybacked with federal programs to provide incentives for private landowners to implement grazing practices that increase residual grass cover that benefits sage grouse.

“We’re going to continue our efforts, in cooperation with other agencies and private landowners, to work on projects to benefit sage grouse,” Steinwand said. “It’s in the best interest of all the states in sage grouse range to keep these birds off the endangered species list.”


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