Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Proposes Sharp-tailed Grouse Reintroduction

There has been no sharp-tailed hunting season in western Montana since 1948

By Tristan Scott

Although Montana continues to support most native species that were historically present here, sharp-tailed grouse are one of only a few native species missing from their original range in western Montana.

Noting that sharp-tailed grouse have deep cultural significance to Indigenous people and are a valued game species in eastern portions of the state, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on a proposal to reintroduce the upland game birds west of the Continental Divide.

Over the last 10 years, a genetic analysis, habitat evaluation, and restoration plan for sharp-tailed grouse in western Montana was completed and suggested that restoration was feasible. After evaluating this new information, FWP has developed four alternative strategies for restoring sharp-tailed grouse to western Montana and is seeking public comment to help guide its final decision.

According to the draft proposal, sharp-tailed grouse populations west of the Continental Divide were likely extirpated by the mid-2000s. FWP and partners interested in restoring sharp-tailed grouse to western Montana completed an assessment of habitat quality in 2015, identifying large areas of habitat in the Blackfoot, Clark Fork and Bitterroot valleys equivalent to that available within the bird’s range in north central Montana.

If past habitat changes caused the original declines then the conditions have recovered sufficiently to now support populations, according to the draft proposal. If other factors caused past declines, then monitoring of transplanted birds is the only way to identify current limiting factors.

FWP has proposed re-establishing self-sustaining sharp-tailed grouse populations west of the Continental Divide by reintroductions of grouse in one to three core areas identified to have the most suitable habitat — the Blackfoot Valley, the northern Bitterroot Valley and the Drummond Area. FWP would capture approximately 75-180 sharp-tailed grouse each year for five years across Regions 4, 5, 6, and 7. Capture locations would be dispersed so as to minimize impacts to source populations.

FWP will also monitor survival and reproductive rates of the translocated grouse.

The proposal’s draft environmental assessment is available for review on FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov/news/publicnotices.

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