SMITH RIVER, Calif. June 21, 2017— The California Fish and Game Commission today voted to prohibit sage grouse hunting during the 2017–2018 season, citing spring surveys that revealed alarming and continuing declines in all sage grouse populations in the state.
The Center for Biological Diversity has for years urged the commission to end sage grouse hunting due to declining populations.
“The commission did the right thing by prohibiting sage grouse hunting in California this season,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center. “This is one small step in the right direction. But to truly save this iconic Western bird from extinction, we’ve got to protect its rapidly disappearing habitat.”
The California Department of Fish and Game initially proposed allowing a range of hunting limits for each of four hunting zones in 2017. In June the department reversed its recommendation based a spring survey that showed alarming declines in male birds on their “leks,” or mating grounds, where they conduct their spectacular mating-dance rituals.
In 2016 hunting was allowed in only one of four hunting zones due to declining population trends and loss of sage grouse habitat from wildfires.
Over the past five years, surveys have shown precipitous declines in California sage grouse populations. Since 2012 their numbers have declined by more than half in some areas, with 1,341 sage grouse projected in fall 2017 based on spring lek surveys. Across the West the sage grouse’s increasingly fragmented habitat is threatened by oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing and other perils.
California’s activities are not related to a review by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, which threatens to undermine efforts to protect the imperiled greater sage grouse across 11 Western states. Zinke has ordered the Bureau of Land Management to review federal sage grouse protection plans to determine if they’re impeding fossil fuel development on public lands.
Drought, habitat loss from development, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and other threats have reduced sage grouse numbers in California. Although hunting has not been identified as the primary reason for the decline of sage grouse in California, it remains a factor that undermines conservation of the species. Because the grouse’s remaining populations are generally small and isolated, any additional mortality from hunting can put them at risk of extinction.
Every spring male sage grouse gather to strut their stuff in riveting mating rituals. Punctuating their displays with swishing, hooting and popping sounds, males bob their heads, fan their tail feathers, raise their wings, and expand and contract distinctive yellow air sacs to compete for females’ favor. But sage grouse leks are becoming less and less lively as habitat dwindles and numbers decline — especially in California’s Mono Basin area.