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December 2009

Greater Sage Grouse

Annual Report of Surveys for Historic Sage-Grouse Leks on the INL

2009 Historic Sage-
Grouse Lek Survey Results

Spotlight on Jericho Whiting, Biologist for the Stoller ESER Program

2008 Annual Site Environmental Report

2009 First Quarter Surveillance Report

2008 Breeding Bird
Survey Report

Newspaper in Education
Ask a Scientist website

An Animal of the High Desert- Rubber Boa

Desert Species of the
Month Archive

Semi-annual aerial surveys of
big game species are conducted
in January and June.  ESER biologists conduct aerial surveys
of the INL from a small airplane flown at half-mile intervals. During the flights, biologists count the number of pronghorn antelope,
elk, and mule deer that can be seen from the plane.

Kid's Activity Pages

  • Wildlife Matching Game
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  • Plant and Animal Activity
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|| Greater Sage Grouse

Once abundant throughout the western United States and some portions of Canada, the sage grouse have experienced drastic declines and can now be found in only a handful of areas. Sage grouse populations have been affected by a multitude of factors including reduction of habitat through agriculture and commercial/residential developments, livestock grazing, fire as well as environmental factors such as weather.

Sage grouse are highly dependent on sagebrush for forage, nesting and protection throughout the year. Ninety-nine percent of the sage grouse winter diet consists of sagebrush leaves and buds. At other times of the year, they eat forbs (small flowering plants). In the summer, insects are also part of their diet, especially for young grouse.

Each spring, males and females gather at a lek in late March through May, as soon as the lek is relatively free of snow. Leks (mating grounds) are usually open areas such as meadows, low sagebrush, or even roads surrounded by sagebrush. Up to a hundred males may gather at a single lek. Their mating display is one of the most complex of any grouse. Males spread their plumage, strut and inflate air sacks located on their breast, producing a distinctive “popping” sound to attract females and protect their territory from other males.

|| Annual Report of Surveys for Historic Sage-Grouse Leks on the Idaho National Laboratory Site

In Idaho, the number of sage-grouse is relatively high on the Upper Snake River Plain compared with other locations within the state, yet these southeastern Idaho populations have also declined in recent decades. The Upper Snake Sage-grouse Local Working Group reports an average of 40-50 percent decline in sage-grouse populations based on long-term averages of lek route data.

A large proportion of relatively undisturbed sagebrush habitat is located on the Idaho National Laboratory Site. Based on lek census data from 1978-1980, sage-grouse populations across the INL Site were stable or increasing.

To properly manage greater sage-grouse populations, it is essential that populations are monitored so that appropriate corrective action can occur if this species begins to decline. Currently, 26 sage-grouse leks are known to be active on the INL Site. In addition, there are 61 leks documented by previous studies or the Idaho Fish and Game (IDF&G) that were historically active, but for which the current status is unknown.

Because the only reliable data for estimating long-term population trends is information on lek attendance, activity, and distribution, ESER's long-term objective is to conduct a multi-year survey of historic leks that were previously identified to determine if those sites are still used by sage-grouse.

|| 2009 Historic Sage-Grouse Lek Survey Results

Using IDF&G criteria, 15 leks where sage-grouse were detected (including 2 that were previously undocumented) were designated as active leks. In addition, six leks were designated as inactive and 37 as unknown.

Current distribution of known and historic leks on the INL Site after completion of the 2009 lek surveys. Historic leks originally identified by Connelly are red and those identified by the IDF&G are yellow. Leks known to be active prior to 2009 are indicated by blue dots whereas the 15 active leks identified in the current study are marked with a circled crosshair. The two previously undocumented leks are identified.

It has been nearly 30 years since most of the historic leks surveyed in this report have been monitored. Given that all leks originally identified were once active, the low number of historic leks with sufficient data to be designated active may be an indicator of substantial population declines in recent decades. Decreasing sage-grouse numbers have been reported in southeast Idaho since the 1970s. However, recent reports from the Upper Snake Sage-grouse Local Working Group indicate that population levels are stable. Possibly, sage-grouse numbers declined throughout the 1980s and 1990s to current levels, and have remained at the current low levels over the past decade.

During the spring of 2010, we will again survey all historic leks, including the two that were newly identified in 2009. Ultimately, once all active sites are identified, our broader objective will be to quantify the number of males visiting leks from year to year to predict population trends on the INL Site. The ability to compare contemporary lek activity with historic patterns, coupled with annual lek census data of all known active leks, will provide officials valuable information to make informed decisions regarding the management of this species on the INL Site. 

Annual Report of Surveys for Historic Sage-Grouse Leks on the Idaho National Laboratory Site, Quinn R. Shurtliff and Jericho C. Whiting, December 2009
To read the full report, please go to

|| Spotlight on Jericho Whiting, Biologist for the Stoller ESER Program

I was born in Payson, Utah. I have always enjoyed wildlife and the outdoors; during my youth, I spent a great deal of time fishing, hunting, hiking, and exploring the mountains, streams, and other areas near my home with my father and brothers. When I entered college, I wanted to teach biology; however, I changed majors and completed a MS degree in Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation, and then graduated with a Ph.D. degree from Idaho State University in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in wildlife ecology, management, and conservation. I started working at Stoller as a Wildlife Biologist in December 2008.

My research experience with wildlife is diverse; I have worked from the frigid North Slope of Alaska to the dry reaches of the Great Basin Desert. For my MS and Ph.D. work, I monitored dispersal, migration patterns, seasonal use of ranges, and reproduction of reintroduced Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. This included capturing and applying radio collars to 90 bighorns to facilitate tracking their movements with telemetry equipment. I have located dens of polar bears on the North Slope of Alaska, which included placing video cameras at den sites to monitor activity and to document behaviors of females with cubs. I also have experience managing, conserving, and reintroducing cutthroat trout, as well as other species of fish in the Great Basin Deserts of western Utah.


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