COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE
(Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus)
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS



1. WHAT IS A COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE?


The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is one of seven recognized subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse that have been described in North America. Compared to the other subspecies, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse are the smallest. They are a medium-sized, grayish-brown gallinaceous bird, with buff and black markings, white belly, and a long, mostly white, wedge-shaped tail.


2. WHY DID THE FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE REVIEW THE STATUS OF THE COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE?

The Biodiversity Legal Foundation submitted a petition to the Service that was received on March 16, 1995, to list Columbian sharp-tailed grouse as threatened throughout its known historic range in the 48 contiguous United States. The Service published a 90-day finding on October 26, 1999, which concluded that substantial information was available to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted. In making this finding, the Service is required to promptly commence 12-month review of the status of the species.


3. WHAT IS A 12-MONTH FINDING?


Publication in the Federal Register of a 12-month finding makes public the Service's decision on a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. That finding is based on a detailed assessment of the available information on the species, as described in the species' status review. One of three possible conclusions can be reached as part of the finding: that listing is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but presently precluded by other higher-priority listing activities involving other species. In the case of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, the Service found that they are not likely to become a threatened or endangered species within the foreseeable future. Therefore, listing of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted at this time.

 

4. WHERE ARE COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE FOUND?

Historically, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse range extended westward from the continental divide in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado to northeastern California and eastern Oregon and Washington; southward to northern Nevada and central Utah; and northward through central and extreme southeastern British Columbia, Canada. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse now occur in Washington, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and British Columbia; were extirpated from Oregon and Nevada and have since been reintroduced; and are extirpated from California.


5. WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE?

Various historic accounts indicate that Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were once much more abundant throughout their range where suitable habitats occurred. Excessive hunting in the mid to late 19th century is thought to have been a major contributing factor to the early extirpation of local populations and the initial reduction of the subspecies' range. Since the turn of the century, the conversion of native habitats for crop production and their degradation as a result of heavy livestock grazing are thought to be the primary factors in further population declines and range reductions.

Based on a questionnaire distributed to wildlife professionals in 1979 throughout the species' range, populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were found to occupy less than 10 percent of their former range in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, 10 to 50 percent in Colorado and Washington, and 80 percent or more in British Columbia.

Although there have been declines in the historic distribution of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and some of the smaller, isolated populations are currently at risk of extirpation, there are numerous large metapopulations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse that are relatively secure and are possibly increasing. In addition, various state and federal agencies are actively managing these populations to improve their overall status, and are attempting to restore the subspecies to currently unoccupied habitats.


6. ARE THERE STILL THREATS TO THE COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE?

Most of the small, isolated populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse will likely be extirpated within a decade or two due to existing threats and current management scenarios. However, the available information indicates that the subspecies' metapopulations are relatively secure. Nevertheless, these large metapopulations have persisted for the last several decades with no discernable downward trend, and recent information indicates that they may now be increasing, as are the habitats available to them.


Although intensive grazing pressure can be detrimental to nesting and wintering sharp-tailed grouse habitat, the area currently occupied by Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is not subject to such pressure. Most of the area currently occupied by the species is privately owned and is withdrawn from crop production or intense grazing under the federal Conservation Reserve Program. In addition, mining lands reclaimed under the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Act have also become important areas for conservation of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in northwestern Colorado.



7. HOW DO I GET MORE INFORMATION ABOUT COLUMBIAN SHARP-TAILED GROUSE?

 

Contact:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Upper Columbia River Basin Field Office
11103 E. Montgomery Drive
Spokane, Washington 99206
(509) 891-6839
Susan Martin, Supervisor
Chris Warren, Fish and Wildlife Biologist