In a translocation program started eight years ago, 38 sage grouse captured in Oregon were released last month in Washington to boost residual populations south of Creston.
The 21,000-acre Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area joins BLM land to form 53,000 contiguous acres where wildlife managers make sage and sharp-tailed grouse habitat a priority.
Since 2008, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has released 240 sage grouse in an effort to stimulate more breeding.
Birds were fitted with GPS transmitters this year so biologists can monitor their movements.
Of the April releases, seven of the 20 males are known to have died already along with one of the 18 females.
“Sage grouse are prey that’s always being eaten by one predator or another,” said Mike Atamian, department district biologist. “That’s a given.”
“These released birds are trying to figure out a landscape that’s novel to them and they roam looking for their niche in fragmented habitat.”
While a few birds latched into an existing grouse mating area, others wandered. Three flew north, across Lake Roosevelt to the Colville Indian Reservation, where one was killed by a predator. The other two returned to the Creston area.
“It’s good when they tie in with the other sage grouse on their lek and participate in breeding,” Atamian said. “But what we’re hoping is that they start a new lek or lead us to another one we don’t know about. That would be the best scenario.”
A few years ago, two of the birds released at Swanson Lakes did just that.
“We followed their signals and discovered a new lek,” said Juli Anderson, the wildlife area manager. “But it was 60 miles away in Douglas County!”
A 2008 survey indicated the sage grouse had declined to 640 birds in the Washington’s two remaining strongholds. About 450 of the birds were in Douglas and Grant counties while about 190 were on the U.S Army’s Yakima Training Center.
Numbers have been increasing very slowly since then, biologists say.