It’s illegal under federal law to kill a wolf west of the Missouri River in South Dakota. The sage grouse might be headed toward the same protection.
The state Wildlife Division on Thursday proposed closing the 2013 hunting season for sage grouse.
The hope is that a break will help the small population recover. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a national program underway to restore the rare bird’s numbers.
A Pheasants Forever biologist already is stationed at Belle Fourche as part of the Wildlife Division’s effort to help ranchers and other landowners make their property more habitable for sage grouse.
West Nile virus cut into sage grouse numbers in South Dakota in 2006 and 2007. There hasn’t been a rebound in mating leks or adult males since then. Harvest by hunters has been down, too.
The South Dakota season has been limited to two days annually on public land in Harding and Butte counties. Hunters were allowed to take one sage grouse apiece per year.
In 2012, there were 35 hunters documented and nine sage grouse harvested.
“It’s been very minimal the last couple years,” state biologist Tom Kirschenmann said.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission decided Thursday to propose the recommendation that the season be closed for 2013. A public hearing will be held July 8 in Pierre.
“I think it’s good. I really do. I think it’s a good idea,” commission chairwoman Susie Knippling of Gann Valley said.
The goal is to avoid a federal threatened or endangered species listing for sage grouse, because that could trigger other restrictions on business, agriculture and recreation activities.
“It’s a wide spectrum of things that could be impacted by the listing of this critter,” Kirschenmann said.
The commission also proposed Thursday a new rule requiring that anyone who kills a wolf in South Dakota must report the incident to a GFP conservation officer within 24 hours of the kill and that the animal be presented for inspection within 48 hours.
The Legislature recently amended South Dakota law to allow wolves to be taken the same as coyotes, fox, skunks and other predators in those areas where state government has “pre-eminent authority” over the management of wolves.
Federal law protects wolves in western South Dakota, western North Dakota and all of Nebraska under the Endangered Species Act, but the eastern halves of the Dakotas are free of federal control, as well as neighboring areas of Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and northern Iowa.
Kirschenmann said South Dakota officials are trying to get the western area open, too. He said South Dakota doesn’t have a formal management plan for wolves.
They sometimes come into South Dakota or travel through the state. The reporting requirement is in response to the Legislature’s action.
“Don’t anticipate many, but it’s the right thing to do,” Kirschemann said.