Friday, December 12, 2008

Ranch and Range News

Gary Kramer/USFWS
Allred says Grouse Could Miss the List
Reno—Stephen Allred, the former Director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and now Assistant Secretary of the Interior said that the sage grouse could be removed from the U.S. list of protected species despite loss of habitat due to western wildfires.

Allred was appointed Assistant Interior Secretary by Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. He says Interior has made significant policy changes that boosted populations since rejecting the sage grouse listing petition back in 2005. He thinks the sage grouse stands a better chance of survival off the list.

“The measures I've seen encourages me that we’re doing what we need to do,” said Allred. He told a wildfire conference in Reno that theres been considerable change the past few years. He credits a change in the way wildfires are fought and the flexibility to examine particular habitats and apply changes on the ground.

"You lose flexibility when you list that the ability to do what I'm going to call sort of 'out of the box' things to improve (habitat, …that) is severely restricted," he said.

Idaho Farm Bureau’s range specialist Wally Butler attended the meetings in Reno and says the numbers are up and agrees with Allred.

“The birds are very adaptable, on the range you often have a ‘pre-fire’ monoculture, that’s an area fully stocked with sagebrush but it lacks diversity the grouse chicks need in development. A solid canopy limits development of the chicks…occasional fires burn in mosaics leaving islands of vegitation thats a better mix of habitat to meet growth stages of the chicks.”

Sage grouse populations are found in sagebrush plains across Idaho and throughout the west. Population counts reveal that populations have declined by half since the 80's and 90's. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there’s an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 sage grouse in the west.
Allred told the group that for the first time BLM firefighters made protection of grouse "leks" a priority second only to human life and structures when fighting wildfires, and they’ve seen positive results.

Allred thinks wildfires and invasive weeds are the biggest threat to sage grouse. Radical advocacy groups contend the problem is cattle, but Allred says research shows that grazing in areas overgrown with cheat grass reduces fire threats and benefits the habitat.

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