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Title: Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Authors: P. Ohanjanian

Year: 2006

Report Abstract
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Columbian subspecies of Sharp-tailed Grouse has experienced marked declines throughout its range. In British Columbia its range has contracted and it is now on the provincial Blue-list. Once common in the East Kootenay, sightings of the species are now extremely rare. Sharp-tailed Grouse require abundant cover for nesting, brood-rearing and survival. In the East Kootenay, they are dependent on climax bunchgrass communities in good range condition. They also need shrubs for over-wintering habitat.

The objectives of this project were to a) compile recent (within the past 10 years) anecdotal information on Sharp-tailed Grouse sightings in the East Kootenay b) attempt to locate remaining birds, and c) characterize the habitat in which surveys were conducted. A preliminary discussion on the feasibility of re-introduction and recommendations is provided.

The study took place at three main areas in the southern Rocky Mountain Trench. These were Newgate, Wycliffe and Skookumchuck. Anecdotal information was collected, and lek surveys, flush surveys and bird-dog surveys were carried out from April 11 to Sept 27, 2005. Habitat and site data included an evaluation of residual grass in spring, range condition, dominant species and environmental conditions.

Nine of twenty two interviewees reported having seen Sharp-tailed Grouse. Five of these reports were deemed to be very reliable, and two moderately reliable. Two were poor. Four of the very reliable reports were near Sharptail Pasture at Newgate, where the most recent sighting dated from 2002. One report was from private lands at Wycliffe dating from the late 1990s. Other less reliable reports from 2000 and 2004 suggest it was possible for Sharp-tailed Grouse to have been in that area. If so, their populations were extremely low and vulnerable to extinction.

Sharp-tailed Grouse were not located in 75 hours and 45 minutes of survey effort. Four blue grouse, five ruffed grouse and one wild turkey were detected.

Excellent Sharp-tailed Grouse nesting habitat structure was located in an un-grazed experimental exclosure at Skookumchuck, 1 ha in size. Elsewhere, the best range condition was on the upper elevations of Lone Pine Hill, in a cattle-only exclosure at Skookumchuck, and on a small (< 20 ha) parcel of private land in Wycliffe. Residual vegetation from the previous year’s growth was absent or sparse at most sites, making even good range unsuitable for nesting Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Anecdotal information proved to be unreliable, largely due to observers’ inability to distinguish between grouse species and failure to recall dates, times, etc.

Four reasons for the decline of this species in the East Kootenay were identified. These were forest ingrowth, poor range condition and lack of residual vegetation, commercial and rural residential development and lack of over-wintering habitat.

Re-introduction of the species is not recommended at present due to lack of habitat. A long-term commitment to Ecosystem Restoration that includes grouse habitat needs is required.


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Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse


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