Representatives of Audubon California today expressed deep disappointment at this afternoon’s decision by the California Fish & Game Commission to continue allowing hunting for Greater Sage-Grouse, despite a recent finding by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that its recent declines make it worthy of protection under the Endangered Species Act. In response to a June request from Audubon California to close the 2010 hunting season for Greater Sage-Grouse, the Commission instead chose to halt hunting in only one of four permitting zones. This, for a species that 100 years ago was so abundant in California that no one bothered to count them. Now, we’re down to just 5,400 birds here.
“The Commission is saying it’s alright to hunt a bird that the federal government says should be on the Endangered Species List,” said Dan Taylor, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “What does that say about a commission that is charged with the protection of state wildlife?”
The Fish and Game Commission today announced a “zero harvest” in just one of four zones where Great Sage-Grouse hunting is allowed. Under this ruling, hunting permits for the 2010 season will not be given for Central Lassen County, but will continue to be available in two zones in Mono County and in North Lassen County.
It is thought that the Greater Sage-Grouse once numbered in the tens of millions throughout its range, but today only 200,000 birds likely remain. Once abundant in California, there are only about 5,400 birds in our state today. If trends since the mid-1960s persist, many local populations may disappear within the next 30 to 100 years, with remaining fragmented populations (like those we have in California) more vulnerable to extinction in the long-term.
In March of this year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that the listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act was warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions.
Greater Sage-Grouse are found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In California the species only occurs in two separate locations: in northeastern California including Lassen and Modoc Counties and in the Mono Basin where a distinct bi-state population segment occupies sagebrush lands in Mono and Inyo Counties in California and portions of Douglas, Lyon, Mineral and Esmeralda Counties in Nevada. The Fish & Wildlife Service also found that the bi-state population meets its criteria as a distinct population segment of the species.
Audubon California does not contend that hunting is a major contributor to the cause of the decline of the species. However, the organization believes it is necessary and prudent to reduce all controllable risks to the species in order to maximize its chances for recovery. The finding of “warranted but precluded” under the Act is a warning signal that we must assess all addressable threats to the species.
“The bottom line is that when a species gets to the stage where it qualifies for the Endangered Species Act, anything you can do to help it can make the different between survival and extinction,” added Taylor. “How can we ask people to make the sacrifices that will be required to save this bird, when we can’t even stop shooting it ourselves?”