On hunts 40 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see a flock of up to 80 sage grouse rise off an Idaho ridge and wing over the horizon. We even carried binoculars to watch the birds down, so our young legs could carry us over the endless sage to find them.
Today habitat loss caused by fire, long-term drought and other factors has brought this icon of the sage-steppe ecosystem close to listing under the Endangered Species Act. In 2015 the US Congress specifically prohibited the Department of the Interior from doing that. Instead, state plans developed as part of 2010’s Sage Grouse Initiative, a combination of government and private conservation efforts, were allowed to go forward to try to help the birds.
In this spirit and to better monitor the sage grouse harvest, Idaho Fish and Game implemented a new sage grouse tag for the fall 2021 hunting season. In doing so, according to Public Information Supervisor Roger Phillips, “A conservative quota of 1,950 tags was sold, first-come, first-served. The number of tags was meant to represent 10 percent of the fall population. Although hunters had to choose one of 12 units and at maximum, depending on the unit, only two birds could be taken, seasons in some units lasted up to a month longer.”
After spring 2022 lek-count data is tabulated, in July, the Fish and Game Commission will set this season’s tag quotas. The pricing structure of $22.75 for residents and $74.25 for nonresidents will remain the same, and tags are scheduled to go on sale August 1.
Sharp-tailed grouse usually inhabit a different habitat type than sage grouse and are currently less vulnerable. A separate permit that costs $5.75 for residents and $17.75 for nonresidents is required to hunt sharptails.