Montana is giving sage grouse to Alberta this year to help stimulate growth of the province’s population of the birds.
Sage grouse are considered an endangered species in Alberta and the province has a recovery plan designed to increase their numbers. Current estimates suggest there are fewer than 90 birds in the province, which is at the northern edge of the species’ range.
Alberta asked Montana to provide birds and transfer the first 40, probably in April. It’s the start of three possible transfers over the next five years, according to Alberta’s environment ministry.
Previous attempts to relocate birds from the U.S. to Alberta have been only marginally successful.
Other elements of the provincial recovery plan include a captive sage grouse breeding program at the Calgary Zoo, removing predators from areas near nesting grounds, removing abandoned buildings where predators perch to scout sage grouse, restoring habitat and working with the Multiple Species at Risk group to maintain habitat and encourage rancher co-operation with protection efforts.
Sage grouse in Canada live in a small triangle of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan that is primarily grazing land.
Oil and gas activity in that region is considered one cause for population decline, as is grazing activity and conversion of land to cropping. The birds are also susceptible to West Nile Virus.
The birds depend on sagebrush for food and protective cover, and they are sensitive to noise and disturbance.
The federal government issued an emergency protection order in February 2014 to protect sage grouse from further decline.
The move was praised by the Alberta Wilderness Association but criticized by area ranchers because of restrictions placed on activity in areas where the birds nest and live.
The order imposed restrictions on human activity in 1,700 sq. kilometres of grassland in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. It was the first time the federal government had imposed such an order as part of the Species at Risk Act to protect a native species.