As we discussed on the phone this morning, I wished to take a few moments and update you on the Gunnison sage-grouse situation in the San Miguel Basin (SMB). We have been very busy this year, but I will try to be brief.
Lek counts in the San Miguel Basin this spring were down 33% from last year (see attached). This decline is most likely due to the severe winter weather. On a brighter note, we did see an increase in lek attendance within the Dry Creek Basin sub-population. The count on the Desert Lek doubled from two to four and a male was observed strutting in the Nelson Creek area for the first time in three years. These are still critically low numbers, but they are the best since 2004 and the trend is up in spite of the adverse weather conditions last winter.
Our habitat improvement efforts this past year have continued to focus in the Dry Creek Basin sub-population area. On the main tract of Dry Creek Basin State Wildlife Area we transplanted over 5,000 sagebrush seedlings and broadcast sagebrush seed on 80 acres this spring. We also conducted a 30 acre rabbitbrush mow/reseeding project, and implemented a 100 acre pinion-juniper removal/weed control effort on the Nelson Creek tract. On private land near the Desert Lek, an eight person conservation crew spent two weeks hand raking a grass/forb seed mixture into the ephemeral draws within a 600 acre project area. The BLM also completed a large (~200 acre) pinion-juniper hydro-mow project on the south side of Dry Creek Basin this summer. The DOW also completed a new fence bordering the recently purchased Elk Creek Tract on Dan Noble State Wildlife Area in the Miramonte sub-population area.
Habitat protection efforts were rather limited this year. The San Miguel County Open Space Commission facilitated the protection of two parcels in the SMB, one on Hamilton Mesa and one on Beaver Mesa through perpetual conservation easements. Unfortunately in spite of having two very promising proposals, we were unsuccessful in attracting any Colorado Wildlife Habitat Protection Program funding from the Division of Wildlife this year. We are hopeful that funding from this program will be available again next year.
Habitat improvement plans for the coming year consist of at least three new projects for Dry Creek Basin. These include additional solar wells (2) to create brood habitat, another 5,000 sagebrush transplants for the State Wildlife Area, as well as 150 acres of brush mowing/seeding, interseeding and brood habitat enhancement on BLM administered lands within Dry Creek Basin. In the Miramonte area we anticipate the relocation of a road on private land, and juniper removal work to be our major areas of focus. In the Iron Springs area we are presently working with a landowner to install fencing along the boundary of a conservation easement to control livestock grazing.
The Division of Wildlife committed over a year ago to funding a more aggressive trap & transplant program for Gunnison sage-grouse across the range. Unfortunately, these plans were shelved in the spring of 2008 due to poor trapping conditions and uncertainty over the effect severe winter conditions may have had on our source population in the Gunnison Basin. This effort has been rescheduled for the spring of 2009 and we anticipate receiving between 10 and 25 birds from Gunnison for transplant to Dry Creek Basin.
Our Local Working Group Coordinator (Leigh Robertson) continues to direct all this traffic. In addition to her usual duties (meetings, media contacts, education, fund raising, etc.) she is also leading an effort funded by a Telluride Foundation grant to update the Local GuSG Conservation Plan. This plan was completed in 1998 and is badly out of date. We are anticipating a first draft of this document being available in the spring of 2009.
This is just a portion of what is going on right now and your continued support is critical to maintaining the rather frantic pace. Leigh has been instrumental in keeping all the balls in the air and her presence allows agency personnel to keep their focus on the ground. Audubon’s contributions to keeping her on board are deeply appreciated. I spent a number of years trying to do it all myself and I can testify that my “on-the-ground” efforts suffered. I should also acknowledge your past monetary assistance with projects, including the sagebrush seed collection/broadcast, solar well installation and seedling transplanting. Your continued interest and matching dollars represent a significant contribution to the overall effort.
Finally, while I am on the topic of help, I should let you know the Working Group (Leigh) will be coordinating an effort this spring to inventory areas designated as “potential habitat” for GuSG. The DOW continues to receive credible reports of GuSG sightings on the Uncompahgre Plateau that we wish to further investigate. If any Audubon members would be interested in helping us look, please contact Leigh. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.
If you have any questions or thoughts to share, please let me know.
Area 18 Wildlife Conservation Biologist
Colorado Division of Wildlife
2300 South Townsend Ave
Montrose, CO 81401