Daily Archives: September 24, 2014

Sage-Grouse & the Vanishing Sagebrush Sea

By Ted Williams

High Country News

Some interests potentially inconvenienced by the Endangered Species Act are so terrified of the law that it often succeeds best when threatened but not invoked.

So it may be with ongoing efforts to save the greater sage-grouse.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave states, private landowners, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management a choice: Come up with acceptable recovery plans before September 2015, or the bird gets an ESA listing.

Beset by oil, gas and wind development, overgrazing, habitat fragmentation, climate change, wildfire and invasive plants, sage-grouse are hurting in Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Utah and Colorado. They’re barely hanging on in Washington, California and the Dakotas. They’ve been wiped out in Nebraska andArizona.

The nightmare vision of distant, desk-bound feds dictating land use across 11 Western states has united former adversaries in the largest landscape-planning effort in the history of wildlife management. Six thousand square miles of habitat have been protected on 950 ranches. Plans for state and federal lands, still in the works, are generally fair and getting better.

But if Colorado and Utah don’t get their acts together, they may leave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service little choice but to roll out its Endangered Species Act howitzer.

In Colorado, the main problem is Gov. John Hickenlooper, who unfortunately co-chairs the sage-grouse task force for the Western Governors’ Association. In an apparent effort to win re-election, he is trying to ingratiate himself with extractive industry, an impossible task because he’s a Democrat. The state doesn’t have a plan or even a strategy for helping sage-grouse.

“Colorado relies on habitat mitigation, but that’s a tool, not a plan,” says Ed Arnett, energy-development point man for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “ColoradoParks and Wildlife has fine sage-grouse specialists who haven’t been fully engaged by the governor’s office.”

“There’s a disconnect in Colorado,” declares Audubon Wyoming director Brian Rutledge, one of the main architects of sage-grouse recovery, especially in Wyoming, the state that’s setting the standard for effective efforts. “Hickenlooper thinks he’s being pro-industry. But I have industry people who tell me that what we’ve done in Wyoming is the best thing that’s happened to them because now they’ve got a rule book.”

Utah at least has a plan, though an inadequate one. It uses a three-track approach: Avoid disturbance of the leks, or bird courtship display areas; minimize other disturbances; and, as a last resort, mitigate damage. These are worthy goals, but everything is voluntary. Regulations are needed, too, especially on state lands.

In Utah, Miles Moretti was deputy director of the state’s Division of Wildlife Resources until 2006, when he left to take the reins of the Mule Deer Foundation. Now he’s a key player in a range-wide stakeholder effort called the Greater Sage-grouse Initiative. What, you might ask, have mule deer got to do with sage-grouse? They’re one of at least 350 other species that also depend on our vanishing sagebrush sea.

“I see private landowners willing to work to keep the bird off the list,” says Moretti. “But I don’t have a lot of hope for Utah’s state lands. The state just wants to stop anything that keeps it from developing land and raising money.”

Rather than trying to prevent listing with effective on-the-ground habitat restoration, Utah officials have hired a lobbyist for $2 million to urge Congress to delay listing.

That lobbyist is Ryan Benson, attorney for and co-founder of Big Game Forever — a tentacle of the Orwellian-named Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, which in 2012 seduced the state Legislature into appropriating half a million dollars for a $50 coyote bounty. In 2012 and again in 2013, the Legislature appropriated $300,000 to hire Big Game Forever and Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, to lobby the U.S. Congress against “wolf reintroduction” in Utah, something the feds had never contemplated.

To figure out what needs to be done for sage-grouse, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tapped as his public-lands czarina Kathleen Clarke, who, as George W. Bush’s BLM director, endeared herself to the oil and gas industry by hosting a drilling free-for-all on some of the West’s best sage-grouse habitat. The priority for Utah, she told theSalt Lake Tribune, is to whip up some science (“honest and true”) that “refutes” existing data.

The obstinacy and denial of Colorado and Utah threaten not just sage-grouse and not just the creatures that depend on sagebrush. They threaten creatures all over the globe, because among the countless victims of an Endangered Species Act listing would be the act itself — a law Congress is already itching to emasculate.

Fall turkey season opens Oct. 1

Consider doing your Thanksgiving dinner shopping outdoors this season

Consider doing your Thanksgiving dinner shopping outdoors this season

The 2014 Fall Turkey Season is open Oct. 1 – Dec. 2 and Dec. 15, 2014 – Jan. 31, 2015, and for some hunters, getting their holiday bird at a grocery store remains a last resort. And since big game and turkey permits are now valid immediately after purchase, putting a bird on the table is easier than ever.

The state is divided into six turkey hunting units, and all but one are open to fall turkey hunting. Unit 4 in the southwest is closed during the fall season. Hunters who purchase a fall turkey permit, valid in units 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6, may also purchase up to three additional turkey game tags valid in Unit 2.

All hunters must have a turkey permit and a valid hunting license to hunt turkeys in Kansas. Residents 15 and younger, 75 and older and hunters hunting on land they own are exempt from hunting license requirements. Resident permits are $22.50 for hunters 16 and older and $7.50 for hunters 15 and younger. Resident turkey game tags are $12.50. Nonresident turkey permits are $32.50 and nonresident turkey game tags are $22.50.

For information on turkey hunting regulations, legal equipment, unit maps and public hunting areas, pick up or download a copy (www.ksoutdoors.com) of the 2014 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary and 2014 Kansas Hunting Atlas. Permits and game tags are available wherever licenses are sold and at ksoutdoors.com.

Milford Wildlife Area youth duck hunt

Youth age 10-15 are invited to attend the early morning hunt

When a morning involves a hot breakfast and duck hunting, can it really get any better? For attendees of the 2014 Milford Wildlife Area youth duck hunt, the answer is yes. Participants of this early morning hunt will receive breakfast, access to great duck hunting, and ammunition to stock their shotguns, all free of charge.

Open to youth age 10-15, the hunt will take place early morning on Oct. 25, 2014. Equipment may be available upon request. Interested parties are asked to register no later than Oct. 17 by calling the Milford Wildlife Area office at (785) 461-5402. Space is limited, so early registration is encouraged.


High Plains Unit: Oct. 4-5, 2014

Low Plains Early Zone: Oct. 4-5, 2014

Low Plains Late Zone: Oct. 25-26, 2014

Southeast Zone: Nov. 1-2, 2014

Rick Funk Memorial youth and women’s pheasant hunt Oct. 4

Activities will be available for all family members in attendance

Activities will be available for all family members in attendance

The Johnson County Chapter of Pheasants Forever (PF) is hosting an Outdoor Family Fun Day and Rick Funk Memorial Youth and Women’s Pheasant Hunt Saturday, October 4 and invites you to join. Both family activities and hunts will take place at Eckman’s Hunting Preserve, 988 E. 1900 Rd., BaldwinCity, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.?

Youth hunts will be open to hunters age 12-15 with an adult sponsor. Women’s hunts will also be offered. Space is limited and hunts will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. For information on license requirements, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Services/Education/Hunter.”

The days activities will begin with a hunter safety refresher, warm-up clay shooting, followed by morning and afternoon hunts. Those not hunting may shoot additional clays or enjoy the family fun day activities, including GPS geocaching, an archery range pellet gun shooting and a casting challenge.

There is no cost to attend this event and lunch will be provided. Registered youth will receive a PF Ringnecks membership and be eligible for a gun raffle.

For more information, or to find out how you can help contribute to this event, visitwww.jocopheasantsforever.org, or contact event coordinator, Jim Milazzo, at (913) 636?3369 or by email at[email protected].

Float the Kaw on Wednesday, Oct. 1

You and your family are invited to join us for an exciting 11-mile float trip on the Kansas River.
This float is sponsored by Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and is at no charge to participants. What a deal – come experience the Kansas River National Water Trail!

Date:  Wednesday October 1, 2014

Time:  Meet at 8:30 a.m.; the float will start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 1:00 p.m.

Starting Point:  Eudora River Access in Eudora, KS

Ending Point:  De Soto River Access in De Soto, KS

Along the way, we’ll stop at a sandbar for a break and stretch. Lunch will be provided at the DeSoto take out.

RSVP: Please RSVP to Roger Wolfe ([email protected]) if you plan to float with us so he can plan for lunch. IMPORTANT: Indicate if you’ll need a canoe or kayak and which you prefer. If a canoe is your preference, you’ll either have your partner or you can be paired with a partner. If you will bring your own canoe or kayak please tell Roger that, as well.

Longnose Gar

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) Photo from Casey Smartt Large female surrounded by many smaller males jockeying for position.

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) Photo from Casey Smartt
Large female surrounded by many smaller males jockeying for position.

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) Photo from Casey Smartt

Large female surrounded by many smaller males jockeying for position.

Today’s gars are derived from a group of fish that thrived more than 50 million years ago. Their unusual appearance is due to a long narrow snout that is more than twice as long as the distance from its eye to the back of its head. To exaggerate this appearance, the anal and dorsal fins are located near the rear of the body. These fins have bony spines. Large needle-like teeth on their upper jaws allow them to snare fish with a lateral motion of the head after remaining stealthy still. The sides and top of their bodies are greenish with dark spots on both the sides and fins. The body is covered with armor of thick interlocking scales that native Americans used as arrowheads. They are native to most rivers in the eastern half of Kansas. Their preferred habitat is the cover provided by weedy flats, bends, bays, creek mouths, swamps and backwaters where the water moves slowly. Gars can live in poorly oxygenated water because they have an unusual swim bladder that acts like a primitive lung. This enables them to breathe air directly from the atmosphere. The grown longnose gar preys upon smaller fish including other gar, frogs, snakes, invertebrates such as crabs, and even waterfowl. They usually feed at night. Longnose gar provided a high quality food source for Native Americans. These fish spawn in tightly clustered groups accompanied by dramatic splashing as several males deploy near a female. Although their lifespan ranges from 15-20 years, their population is in decline due to overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss due to construction of dams and roads.