The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will be hosting an open house on Monday, July 28 to discuss and gather comments on the upcoming 2014 sage grouse hunting season. The open house will be held at the Southeast Regional office located at 1345 Barton Road in Pocatello from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm.
Those interested in learning more about sage-grouse populations and wishing to provide comments on hunting season proposals can stop by the office anytime during the open house. Comments can also be submitted online via Fish and Game's website at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov, where a link to the sage-grouse comment form will be available. The comment period will run from July 15 through August 5.
Idaho Fish and Game is proposing two options for the 2014 sage grouse season. The first option is for no change from the 2013 season. The second option is for no change except the addition of the Curlew Valley Area as a new closure. This closure would include Bannock County west of Interstate 15, Cassia County south of Interstate 86 and east of Interstate 84, Oneida County north and east of Interstate 84 and Power County south of Interstate 86.
The 2006 Idaho Sage-Grouse Management Plan (Plan) outlines guidelines for population criteria which should be met to provide hunting seasons. The criteria are based on a comparison of the most recent three-year average lek counts to the average lek counts from 1996-2000 for a specified area. The options for hunting seasons provided in the Plan include a closed season where lek counts are low or data is lacking, a Ôrestrictive' season when lek counts are between 50 and 150% of the 1996-2006 average, and a Ôstandard' season when lek counts exceed 150% of the 1996-2006 average. The restrictive season allows for a 7-day season and a one bird daily bag limit. The standard season allows for a 23-day season and a 2 bird daily bag limit.
The current data indicate that hunting seasons for areas in the southeast region could remain closed in the East Idaho Uplands (that area east of Interstate 15 and south of Highway 26), could remain a Ôrestrictive season' in the Curlew Valley area, and a Ôstandard season' could be offered in the southern part of the Big Desert.
However, local sage-grouse working groups and regional Fish and Game staff are recommending that the southern part of the Big Desert remain a restrictive season for a couple of reasons. One, there was low sage-grouse productivity in 2012 and 2013 in that area. Second, a restrictive season would be consistent with surrounding areas, thereby eliminating additional pressure on the Big Desert that would occur if surrounding areas closed before the Big Desert.
Additionally, the southeast region is proposing a closed season in the Curlew Valley area based on declining lek counts. The number of males on leks has declined over 50% since 2011 in this area and is approaching the number for which the 2016 guidelines suggestion a closed season.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will review comments and set the 2014 sage-grouse season at their August meeting in Idaho Falls. The season brochure will be available at the end of August. For information contact the Southeast Regional Office in Pocatello at 208-232-4703.