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Upland Gamebird Projects - Re-introuducing Columbia Sharp-tailed Grouse

Columbia sharp-tailed grouse

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were historically found in most counties of eastern Oregon. These birds preferred the bunchgrass prairies interspersed with streambottoms containing deciduous shrubs and trees. This habitat was particularly common in north-central Oregon and the Columbia Basin. These same areas were also attractive to early homesteaders which had converted most of the bunchgrass prairie to crop production by 1915. In 1929, Oregon closed its hunting season for sharp-tailed grouse and it has never re-opened. By the late 1960’s sharp-tailed grouse were believed to have been extirpated from Oregon.

Since its extirpation, personnel of state and federal agencies and private citizens have expressed interest in the reintroduction of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse into Oregon. This species, one of very few extirpated from Oregon, was absent from the state for over 20 years before being re-introduced in early 1991.

A total of 12 releases have resulted in translocation of 368 grouse from southeastern Idaho and northeastern Utah to Wallowa County, Oregon, since 1991. Grouse dispersed from the initial release site (Clear Lake Ridge) to the Leap Area north of Enterprise, OR. Consequently, all subsequent releases have been made at the Leap Area, a site used by grouse from 1991 through present. Eventually leks (dancing or breeding grounds) were established at the Leap Area, with at least 2 active for more than 12 years. Lek counts and summer flush counts since the initial release indicate a small, persisting population of grouse is present in Wallowa County. These counts indicate grouse numbers have fluctuated since their reintroduction, most recently peaking in 2002 and 2003 and declining after the 2003-04 winter. The availability of winter habitat, particularly access to deciduous shrubs and trees, is likely the most limiting factor for the grouse in this area. The grouse rely on buds and fruits of trees and shrubs when snow cover limits feeding on the ground. Hopefully, with the translocation efforts made in 2006 - 2008 and continued habitat improvements, this species can again become a permanent part of Oregon’s diverse suite of grouse species.

Number of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse translocated to Wallowa County, Oregon, 1991-2009.
Year Total Birds Females Males Release Site
1991
33
20
13
Clear Lake Ridge
1992
48
18
30
Clear Lake Ridge
1993
18
6
12
Leap Area
1994
10
3
7
Leap Area
1995
24
9
15
Leap Area
1996
23
13
10
Leap Area
1997
23
14
9
Leap Area
1998
--
--
--
None
1999
--
--
--
None
2000
--
--
--
None
2001
33
19
14
Leap Area
2002
18
6
12
Leap Area
2003
--
--
--
None
2004
--
--
--
None
2005
--
--
--
None
2006
37
13
24
Leap Area
2007
50
21
29
Leap Area
2008
51
26
25
Leap Area
2009
--
--
--
None
Totals
368
193
225
--

 

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse lek counts prior to each year’s release of birds into the Leap Area of Wallowa County, Oregon, 1994-2009, where no releases were made 1998-2000 and 2003-2005 and 2009.
Lek Name 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994
Columbus

10

3 5 9 11 6 20 24 4 4 14 15 16 10 7 5
Custer 13 4 12 9 1 6 0 1 0 0 1 0 2 7 8 5
Short Pine 0 0 3 0 - 0 0 0 0 0 2 - - - - -
Saddle 0 0 0 0 - - 0 0 0 0 - 5 0 4 0 -
Middle Ridge 5 3 7 5 2 4 11 9 5 5 8 6 5 0 0 -
S. Middle Ridge 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 3 - - - - - -
Paula 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 - - - - - - -
Boyds 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 - - - - - - - -
Sheep Wagon 0 2 0 0 2 0 8 - - - - - - - - -
E. Lostine 0 0 0 0 0 1 - - - - - - - - - -
TOTALS 28 12 27 23 16 17 42 42 11 12 25 26 23 21 15 10

 

Number of total birds, broods, and chicks observed during Columbian sharp-tailed grouse flush count, Leap Area of Wallowa County, Oregon, 1994-2009.
Year Total Birds Total Broods Total Chicks Chicks per Brood
1994 24 - - -
1995 13 - - -
1996 43 - - -
1997 25 2 4 2.0
1998 41 2 15 7.5
1999 47 3 14 4.7
2000 22 3 13 4.3
2001 39 2 12 6.0
2002 53 - - -
2003 47 3 18 6.0
2004 24 0 0 0
2005 31 1 5 5.0
2006 56 3 9 3.0
2007 29   2 -
2008 25 2 7 3.5
2009 25 1 6 6

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