JEROME • When Idaho’s sage grouse populations began falling, state wildlife experts saw a need for change.
However, finding the best data and meeting with the right experts takes time. For one group, identifying the best conservation efforts took close to five years.
After spending years drafting a grouse conservation plan, the North Magic Valley Local Working Group is now ready to take action.
Local working groups are volunteer operations created across southern Idaho that bring land users and local residents together with government biologists to find ways to improve grouse populations.
Completing a conservation plan allows working group members to tackle more projects instead of rewrite parts of a draft, said Regan Berkley, a regional biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game who helps lead the group.
The plan is being released in a time where wildlife experts have only a short deadline to improve sage grouse populations. In 2010, federal officials declared that the sage grouse warranted endangered species protections but held off from listing it. Then in 2011, a federal judge approved a settlement requiring a final listing decision for the bird by 2015.
Now that the plan is complete, the group can now focus on completing more projects — but only if it can find the funding.
“This frees up more time, not necessarily more money,” Berkley said. “We’re going to apply for as much as we can and see what we get.”
Projects include marking fences to ward off sage grouse from flying into them, surveying breeding grounds and counting birds, Berkley said.
A challenge for the North Magic Valley group is that most of the breeding areas are in locations that experience multiple wildfires every fire season.
The area has had more than 1,000 wildfires between 1988 and 2007, according to information from the plan.
“It’s quite the laborious process to improve the area,” Berkley said. “Fire season happens every year. Our concern isn’t about when the fire will burn but where.”
The North Magic Valley group was founded in 2007 and has close to a dozen active members, said member Walt Locke.
He has devoted most of his life to conservation efforts and said improving sage grouse habitat should be a priority for all of Idaho.
“Most of the people involved in wildlife conservation are quite passionate,” he said. “They may not all agree but it’s important to come together and work this all out.”