BILLINGS – Montana officials want to relocate as many as 40 sage grouse to Alberta next spring in a bid to reverse a decades-long decline of the birds in the Canadian province.
An environmental study on the relocation was expected Tuesday.
The birds would be shipped in April if the proposal is approved by Montana wildlife commissioners.
If the first group of relocated birds thrives, wildlife managers intend to ship 60 more sage grouse each year to Alberta for up to three years, said Mark Sullivan, wildlife program manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Sage grouse are classified as endangered in Canada. In Alberta, their numbers have declined by about 80 percent in recent decades as open land has been developed for agriculture and energy production.
The U.S. Interior Department announced in March that more protections for sage grouse were warranted but precluded in the western U.S. because other species were in greater need of protection.
However, wildlife officials say the sage grouse population is strong enough in northern Montana to withstand the Alberta relocation proposal.
“With the number of birds we have in Phillips and Valley counties — more than 15,000 — it’s not going to hurt to try it,” he said.
Canada in the mid-1990s provided 66 gray wolves for relocation to Idaho and Wyoming as part of a successful program to restore the species to the U.S. Northern Rockies.
The sage grouse proposal appears to mark the first time wildlife has been shipped from northeastern Montana to augment a struggling Canadian population, Sullivan said.
“It’s really rare to move animals across international boundaries like that,” he said.
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