Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sage grouse chicks are dying in droves, and humans and drought are to blame

For nine years, a team of researchers studied greater sage grouse hens in Nevada and basically watched their chicks die. “They just disappear,” said Dan Gibson who led a study of sage grouse that was released Wednesday. The researchers caught females, put tracking collars on them, followed them to the areas where they built nests and checked on them nearly every week for observations that ended in 2012. “You see a female and her brood and she’ll have seven chicks with her. A week later, she’ll have five. Then three. Until slowly it goes to zero.” This is the state of play in much of the vast sage brush sea that covers 11 Western states where sage grouse live. Once there were millions of them in Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. Now the federal government estimates that there are about 400,000. Gibson’s study, published in the Condor: Ornithological Applications journal, is one of a few that details how the demise is happening. Long story short, rampant energy excavation and large gold mining operations have torn up the bird’s natural habitat, and hens haven’t adjusted well in their search for nests. The researchers tracked the birds’ collars to 411 nests in eastern Nevada. Subtracting abandoned nests, they counted 350 with activity. Slightly more than a third were successful. They counted 862 chicks from about 100 hens. About 700 of the chicks died less than two months after hatching...more

No comments: