BLM & Oregon State University track birds to study conifer removal
“Can you roll her a little bit,” one wildlife scientist whispers to the person holding the sage grouse.
Under the light of a headlamp, a 30-gram GPS unit is affixed to the bird and shortly after that it is released back to the southern Oregon sagebrush.
Since February, an Oregon State University study sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management has been searching for sage grouse in an effort to track their movements.
The goal of attaching the “backpack style” GPS units, according to OSU graduate assistant Andrew Olsen, is to prove that the removal of juniper trees is “a good thing for grouse.”
“We’re hoping to see it is beneficial,” said Olsen.
The transmitters have a solar panel on them and automatically connect with satellites five times a day, a huge amount of data over time when compared to older VHF devices that recorded two locations a week, said Olsen.
“It’s probably gonna take, maybe generations of birds to recolonize these areas -- where we know they were in the past,” said Olsen.
Multiple government agencies, private landowners and others have been collaborating for years to improve habitat for the greater sage grouse, which is under consideration for being listed as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is on deadline to make a listing decision by the end of September.
According to the BLM, about half of the historic greater sage grouse habitat across the West has been lost.
In the South Warner Mountains, not far from the Oregon borders with California and Nevada, the scientists search with a bright light at night, hoping for that moment when the eyes of a hiding grouse shine. Once spotted, they shake the light, causing the bird to freeze up, “like grouse in the headlights,” said Olsen.
From then, coordinates are registered, the GPS unit is strapped on, an ankle bracelet is affixed and the bird is weighed -- an entire process that takes about 15 minutes.
All while whispering in the dark sagebrush ecosystem.
More information about BLM Oregon projects: http://www.blm.gov/or/index...
Video captured in August, 2015, via BLM Lakeview
Video & story by Toshio Suzuki