November 4, 2009 in City

Wire fences harming sage grouse, study finds

Mead Gruver Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A sage grouse in the wild is shown in this photo provided by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
(Full-size photo)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – An ongoing study found that collisions with a relatively short section of barbed-wire fence killed dozens of sage grouse over a seven-month period, research that could affect a decision on whether to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

In the results released last week, researchers with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department documented 146 instances of finding sage grouse feathers and/or carcasses on or near a 4.7-mile section of barbed-wire fence near Farson in western Wyoming.

Placing colored tags on the fence to make the wire more visible seemed to reduce the number of birds killed by about 60 percent, the study also found.

However, the research suggests that quite a few sage grouse are dying as a result of colliding with the thousands of miles of barbed-wire fence crisscrossing the West, biologists said.

“It’s probably indicative of other fences that we’re just not watching,” Pat Deibert, lead U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist for the sage grouse listing decision, said Tuesday.

The service has until the end of February to decide whether to protect sage grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act. The deadline emerged from a lawsuit filed by environmentalists to try to get sage grouse listed.

Deibert said the state’s two-page report was “good” and that it would be considered in the decision-making process.

Sage grouse are found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming, as well as in Canada. Disappearance of sagebrush habitat is one reason why the birds are believed to have declined between 55 and 90 percent from their historic numbers.

The researchers gathered their collision figures in 2007 between April and November. Subsequent research looked at whether colored tags helped sage grouse avoid flying into the fence.

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