Awakening to the spirit and beauty of the northern Great Plains
Friday, November 5, 2010
Birdline on Monday--a question about Saskatchewan's Provincial Bird, the Sharp-tailed Grouse
This amazing photo of a Sharp-tailed Grouse in dancing form courtesy of John Carlson, friend and a great defender of grassland birds. Here is his always beautiful blog, Prairie Ice.
I'll be on Birdline our (now) bi-monthly phone-in radio show about birds, beginning at 12:30 p.m. next Monday (Nov. 8). During the show, I will be asking listeners to call in and answer two questions: 1. Are they seeing many Sharp-tailed Grouse (or "prairie chickens") in their region and 2. Do they agree that it may be time to close the hunting season for this species.
This morning, Fred Clemence, a retired farmer who has been paying attention to birds for many years in Saskatchewan's parkland eco-region, called to express his concerns over the Sharp-tailed Grouse. "I've been trying to find someone in the provincial government who will take me seriously, but no one will listen."
Fred believes that it may be time to close the Sharp-tailed Grouse season and give the birds a chance to build up their numbers. The best data available shows an unquestionable and statistically significant decline. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) run by the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Centre and the Canadian Wildlife Service, shows that in Saskatchewan the Sharp-tailed Grouse is declining by 7.2% per year. In Aspen parkland the annual decline is 11.3%!!
Hunters and the hunter-biologists working for Saskatchewan Fish and Wildlife are fond of studies that supposedly demonstrate that hunting has little effect on a species like the Sharp-tail, even when it is in steep decline as it has been in recent decades.
I'm not convinced that is entireley true, but even if it were true, why not give our prairie upland game all a bit of a break anyway and let them increase and expand outward from zones where they are reasonably plentiful? Even if there is no guarantee that would happen from a moratorium on hunting, it would at least be a sign of good faith that the agency responsible for managing these species is concerned about their decline and looking for ways to help them recover. What else is Saskatchewan Environment doing to reverse this death spiral? What have we got to lose if we close the season for a few years?
As Fred said in his phone call, sharp-tailed Grouse dancing grounds are getting very empty in the parkland where they once were common. There definitely has been some habitat loss, but not commensurate with the decline in Sharp-tails and Grey (or "Hungarian") partridge. Something else is emptying the dancing grounds and habitat, but no one seems to be trying to find out what that is. As long as there are still decent numbers of Sharp-tails in the large pastures near the U.S border where hunters can have a good day of shooting, our Fish and Wildlife officials seem to be happy.
Instead, we should be looking to secure more habitat and perhaps allowing the few birds remaining in the south to flourish in hopes that their much-retracted zones of healthy population might actually expand back to the north.
If you have some thoughts on this, please phone in to Birdline on Monday and share them with our listeners.