My years as a member of the Sage Grouse Statewide Advisory Committee (SAC) have been hugely insightful. Our meeting this week was one of the best.
David Skinner, a falconer and member of the North Magic Valley Local Working Group, brought his falcon for show and tell. David, who wears a pony tail and Dansko clogs, doesn’t fit my stereotype of a hunter. He looks the part of an ultra-greenie who wouldn't hurt a fly. David began his love affair with falcons as a teenager. He says this is common, as the sport is too all-consuming to imagine picking it up as an adult. He showed us slides of hunting on the Camas Prairie. He calls it sage grouse “hawking,” and he’s passionate about his sport, taking Gabriel out every other day to fly, which is after all what birds do.
Some discussions on the SAC have suggested that falconers have too long of a hunting season and take too many birds (some members believe that hunting should be banned altogether). In fact, of the 20 or so falconry hunters in Idaho this year, only an estimated 58 birds were harvested. For me, I appreciate their penchant for wildlife and their determination to work for sage grouse conservation. I want David and other sportsmen at the table with me, wrangling together on how to save our birds.
We also had a hands-on activity learning to “read” sage grouse wings. Wings are collected at check points during hunting season, aged and sexed, and the data compared to figures collected since the 1940’s. It was common back then to have 3-4 juveniles for every hen. This year, 2011, it was a paltry 1.1 chicks per hen. No matter the numbers of birds, this ratio is significant. Those of us in the cattle business understand reproductive efficiency all too well. I have to agree with the biologist who used the word “alarming” to describe the results.
We listened to presentations concerning habitat maps, the BLM’s priority areas, and good research on predation and the explosion of the raven population.
But more than anything tangible that happens at these meetings, I appreciate the personalities and the diverse viewpoints represented on the SAC. Brett from Idaho Power, Rich from the Idaho Conservation League, Rochelle from the Wool Growers, Dean from Fish and Game, they all add their energy and unique insight to the discussion. I thank them for educating me.
Mark is super supportive of my other involvements and knows that to stay in business, we need to venture out into the larger arena. Making sure ranching interests are represented in conservation discussions is critical, even if my own continuing education is my ulterior motive.
While I was in meetings, Mark and a good crew started the herd home from the mountains. We gave them their annual vaccinations yesterday and walked them to pasture today. It’s good to have them home.
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