Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

About 70 people gathered at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center Wednesday afternoon to discuss efforts to protect the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that has been a candidate for federal protection for more than a decade.

Participants in the annual SageCon Summit included officials from local, state and federal agencies, conservation groups and landowners.

Lee Foster, sage grouse Conservation coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), talked about sage grouse population trends in the state.

He said ODFW completed this year’s population estimate report in September using data collected from many agency biologists and others.

Foster said 200 to 500 lek complexes are monitored on a yearly basis in the state.

(A lek is an area where sage grouse congregate to mate in the spring, and a complex is a group of leks within a mile of each other.)

“We treat a lek complex as a unit of analysis when we’re estimating sage grouse populations,” Foster said.

There are 777 known lek complexes in Oregon.

Foster said one objective for 2017 was to monitor and conduct multiple counts in half of the complexes in each area that’s considered a priority for conserving sage grouse habitat.

“What that means is a huge amount of effort by all of our partners and ODFW,” he said.

Through aerial surveys, 23 new leks were discovered across the state in 12 complexes. But the state experienced an estimated 8-percent decline in the bird’s population since last year’s survey, and a drop of about 30-percent since 2003.

ODFW estimates there are 20,400 sage grouse in Oregon.

“This 8-percent decline is fairly slight compared to some of the big declines we’ve seen in the past,” Foster said.

In Baker County, which is the northern fringe of the sage grouse’s habitat in Oregon and includes less than 10 percent of the species’ range in the state, Foster said the population increased by an estimated 1-percent.

But Glenn Frederick, state sage grouse biologist for the BLM, which manages much of the sage grouse habitat on public land in Oregon, said that over the past five years the Baker County sage grouse po pulation has declined significantly.

See more in the Nov. 10, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.