Changes in hunting season regulations (1870s-2019) reduce harvest exposure on greater and Gunnison sage-grouse

PLoS One. 2021 Oct 5;16(10):e0253635. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253635. eCollection 2021.

ABSTRACT

Hunter harvest is a potential factor contributing to population declines of sage-grouse (Centrocercus spp.). As a result, wildlife agencies throughout western North America have set increasingly more conservative harvest regulations over the past 25 years to reduce or eliminate hunter success and concomitant numbers of harvested greater (C. urophasianus) and Gunnison (C. minimus) sage-grouse. Sage-grouse hunting has varied widely over time and space, which has made a comprehensive summary of hunting management challenging. We compiled data on harvest regulations among 11 western U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces from 1870-2019 to create a timeline representative of hunting regulations. We compared annual harvest boundaries and area-weighted average hunting regulations, 1995-2018, relative to administrative boundaries and areas of high probability of sage-grouse occupation. We also summarized estimated numbers of birds harvested and hunters afield, 1995-2018, across both species’ ranges. From 1995-2018, there was a 30% reduction in administrative harvest boundaries across the greater sage-grouse range compared to a 16.6% reduction in area open to harvest within 8 km from active leks. Temporary closures occurred in response to wildfires, disease outbreaks, low population numbers, and two research projects; whereas, permanent closures primarily occurred in small populations and areas on the periphery of the species distribution. Similarly, area-weighted possession limits and season length for greater sage-grouse decreased 52.6% and 61.0%, respectively, while season start date stayed relatively stable (mean start date ~259 [mid-September]). In contrast, hunting of the now federally-threatened Gunnison sage-grouse ended after 1999. While restrictions in harvest regulations were large in area, closures near areas of high greater sage-grouse occupancy were relatively smaller with the same trend for Gunnison sage-grouse until hunting ceased. For greater sage-grouse, most states reduced bag and possession limits and appeared to adhere to recommendations for later and shorter hunting seasons, reducing potential for additive mortality.

PMID:34610035 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0253635

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