LAS VEGAS— The state of Nevada will open an ill-advised hunting season on Saturday for the greater sage grouse, a species that federal officials said earlier this year warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. The protections have yet to be put in place, and meanwhile Nevada wildlife officials have authorized hunting of this bird in parts of eight counties.
“The state of Nevada is making it OK to hunt a species that federal biologists say needs more protection. What does that say about the state agency charged with protecting Nevada’s wildlife?” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is seeking federal protections for the grouse. “Rather than allowing this priceless bird to be hunted, state officials should be focusing on how to keep it off the path to extinction.”
Sage grouse are large native birds that once numbered in the millions in their sage-brush habitat. Today scientists estimate that fewer than 200,000 remain across 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The population has been declining for decades due to several factors: habitat loss from oil, gas and mineral exploration; livestock grazing; off-road vehicles; wildfire; nonnative weeds; drought; and most recently renewable-energy developments.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in March that the grouse warranted protections under the Endangered Species Act but that such protection was precluded because other species were a higher priority.
Nevada’s hunting season for the grouse begins Sept. 18 and will last through Oct. 9. Hunting will be allowed in portions of Churchill, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Nye, Washoe and White Pine counties.
“While hunting is not a major contributor to the causes of the grouse’s decline, it’s just common sense to reduce all controllable risks to the species to maximize its chances for recovery,” Mrowka said. “State and federal wildlife agencies should be working together, rather than at cross purposes, to help this magnificent bird survive.”