VERNON, Tooele County — With only one exception, greater sage grouse are doing well in Utah. And the one area where the birds are struggling — Tooele County — received some much-needed help on March 10.
On that morning, 11 greater sage grouse — seven males and four females — were released near a breeding area called a lek. The lek is southwest of Vernon.
As soon as biologists opened the doors to the transport boxes, the newly arrived sage grouse — captured in western Box Elder County a few hours earlier — flew out of the boxes and onto their new home.
Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said in a statement that the birds will bolster the local sage grouse population as biologists continue to improve sage grouse habitat in the area.
"Once a population of greater sage grouse disappears," Robinson says, "so does the chance that grouse will ever live in that area again."
Robinson said sage grouse that are moved from one area to another usually don't survive if resident sage grouse aren't already present in the area where the birds are released. "However, the likelihood of success is high if resident birds are still present," he said. "The resident birds help the new birds find the habitat they need for food and cover."
Robinson says the sage grouse released March 10 should mix with other sage grouse, and breed and raise young this spring.
The next day, March 11, eight more greater sage grouse — captured in Box Elder County the night before — were also released near the lek. The second group included one male and seven females, bringing the total number of birds released to 19.
Biologists want to release a total of 40 greater sage grouse — 10 males and 30 females — in Tooele County this spring. The final trapping effort will happen in early April, when biologists will trap greater sage grouse on Parker Mountain in south-central Utah.
Robinson said the sage grouse are struggling in Tooele County due to a wide range of factors, including drought, increased off-highway vehicle use, altered water distribution, invasive weeds, and the continued spread of pinion and juniper trees.