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Retired physician honored for grousing around scablands

A Spokane woman is honored to be following the reintroduction of sage grouse in Lincoln County.

Kim Thorburn of Spokane has been named the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s Volunteer of the Year for her work on sage and sharp-tailed grouse recovery in Lincoln County.

“I’m thrilled, and frankly surprised to win an award for something I enjoy doing so much,” she said. “I’ve always been a wannabe wildlife biologist.”

The award was presented last weekend by Phil Anderson, agency director, just as some of the sage grouse Thorburn has been monitoring were hatching clutches.

Meanwhile, Ginger Gumm and Daniel Poleschook Jr. of Loon Lake were named Washington’s wildlife Educators of the Year after devoting 14 years to observing, photographing, studying common loons and sharing the information.

The couple has been involved in monitoring loons and even helping with investigations of cases involving loons killed by humans. They have been instrumental in educating state officials on the threat lead fishing tackle poses to the dozen or so nesting pairs of loons in Washington.

This week, Gumm and Poleschook helped with the inquiry into a loon found dead on May 10 at Long Lake in Ferry County.

Thorburn is a member of the Spokane Audubon Society, a retired physician and former head of the Spokane Regional Health District.

“She really did deserve the (Volunteer of the Year) award,” said Lindell Haggin, who volunteers with Thorburn for birding surveys on BLM land.

“She spent about one day every week regardless of the weather, walking and driving all over the shrub-steppe tracking the birds. She even went to Oregon in March to help capture some of the grouse.”

The survival of sage grouse brought from Oregon to Lincoln County in 2008 was not good, and nesting success was poor for birds brought in and released last year.

But the largest of the North American grouse are having much better success this year, Thorburn reported.

“Now that we have experienced birds who’ve been in the area for more than a year, the survival of the new arrivals has been quite good,” she said.

Seven clutches are confirmed to have hatched in recent weeks and another two nests appear to be imminent, she said.

Hens from releases last year and this year are on eggs, she said. One hen hatched a clutch of nine chicks.

“We’re all so excited. It seems to be working,” she said.

However, habitat fragmentation still appears to be a major issue in the species long-term recovery, she said.

The Lincoln County project demonstrates steps that can be taken to preserve habitat even when changes are necessary for humans to coexist, she said.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet several land owners in the area who seem interested and supportive of the project,” she said.

“Most recollect the days when the birds were prevalent. Our farmlands are crucial to conservation.”