Policies and Position Statements

1. Icons and Ecosystems. Grouse are powerful icons or "flagship species" of the biotic communities in which they live. As such they can be used to focus public attention and effort on ecosystem maintenance and preservation of the biodiversity with which grouse are associated. Although the primary concern of NAGP is the long term welfare of grouse, we believe that concern will be best served by a landscape and ecosystem approach to conservation, thereby optimizing the biodiversity of which grouse are natural components.

2. Science. In developing its positions on public issues impacting the welfare of grouse and in guiding its actions, NAGP places primary reliance on the findings and principles of wildlife science and wildlife management. For that reason it seeks guidance from professional groups such as the Prairie Grouse Technical Council and the Western States Sage and Sharp-tailed Grouse Technical Committee, as well as from other federal, state, and NGO scientists.

3. Cooperation and Administration. As upland gamebirds, state governments manage grouse. NAGP believes that the key to successful management and restoration of grouse populations lies in cooperative arrangements among all stakeholders-federal and state agencies, landowners, conservation groups, resource users, and native American constituencies-all organized at the state level of government. State governments should take the lead, and each State should have an active, cooperative management program for each grouse species under its jurisdiction. NAGP works to have this management system instituted in every state where grouse occur.

4. Scales of Management. Grouse are wide-ranging species, and their distributions typically include several states and/or Canadian provinces. Overall species management plans should, therefore, involve inter-state/provincial strategies and cooperative efforts carried out under the aegis of political coalitions such as the Western Governors' Association. On the other hand, implementation of actual, on-the-ground management tactics are usually best organized at the regional or local levels, at the ecological scale of watersheds (basins) or individual drainages, and at the political scale of counties or neighboring landowners. NAGP therefore supports the activities of such groups as the High Plains Partnership, organized for the management of Lesser Prairie-Chickens, and the local Sage-Grouse Working Groups in Colorado and Idaho.

5. Hunting. NAGP recognizes that hunting grouse has been a popular pastime for centuries. Although hunting may have contributed to a reduction in the numbers of some grouse populations, NAGP's position is that wherever scientific evaluation of grouse populations can demonstrate the existence of a "harvestable surplus" above the number needed to maintain a stable or expanding breeding population, regulated hunting should continue to be recognized as a legitimate use of a renewable natural resource. Where populations are greatly reduced or slowly recovering from decline, hunting becomes problematic when it is additive rather than compensatory to natural mortality.

6. Ranching. On federal and state lands, NAGP's position is that pasturing livestock is a legitimate use, so long as the operation does not result in habitat deterioration or jeopardize the long term population viability of the wild animals and plants that coexist on the range. At the same time we understand that the arid zone grasslands of the western states are marginal habitats, at best, for domestic livestock, making economically profitable operations difficult to impossible. Rainfall and water are the main limiting factors. We therefore support government actions a) to control the timing, pattern, and intensity of grazing on federal/state lands and b) to provide economic incentives to ranchers to practice a form of land use that will sustain all the native animals and plants of affected grassland ecosystems in perpetuity. We also support both public and private (NGO) funding of economic incentives to develop management practices favorable to grouse and other wildlife on privately owned properties. We believe that encouraging continued, benign pastoral activities on rangelands and other grouse habitats is preferable to their development into exurban communities or resorts that attract large numbers of people.

7. Farming. Historically some farmlands often supported large numbers of grouse (e.g., prairie-chickens in the Great Plains) when they were interspersed with natural habitats, but high intensity, modern agricultural practices leave little suitable habitat for grouse or other wildlife. We support both public and private economic inducements to encourage farming practices that provide cover and food for grouse, e.g., shrubby and herbaceous fence rows, uncultivated strips along drainages, leaving strips of uncut grain in fields, growing special food plants for wildlife, and limiting the use of herbicides to kill shrubs and forbs.

8. Mining and Oil & Gas Extraction. NAGP understands the Nation's economic needs for minerals and for energy in subterranean oil and gas deposits, but at the same time it is well aware of the past, and sometimes severe, long term damage to natural landscapes and ecosystems caused by these extractive industries. It is also aware of some recent mitigations and post-operation restoration efforts that have improved habitat for grouse and other wildlife. NAGP believes the regulatory agencies must hold developers to the highest possible standards, and at a minimum to full compliance with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, and always involve the public in debate over the tradeoffs between development for real but short term economic need for nonrenewable resources and the maintenance of natural ecosystems capable of producing renewable resources indefinitely. Mining or oil and gas development may take place on the public domain when it can be demonstrated that the impacted landscape and ecosystem can be restored to a grouse-friendly condition after the operation ends, or that the extraction can be conducted without substantial damage to natural values. The standard for compliance must be "zero net loss of grouse habitat."

9. Fire. Fire can have both beneficial and harmful influences on grouse habitats depending on the location and circumstances. NAGP supports the careful use of controlled burning for habitat modification in those places where scientific data indicate that improvements for grouse will result. On the other hand, uncontrolled wild fires, natural or man-caused, have destroyed millions of acres of grouse habitat, especially in the arid, sage shrub steppes and particularly in association with the establishment of exotic, fire-tolerant cheatgrass stands that eliminate shrubs. In addition, annual burns of the same areas year after year, especially in spring, in tall and mid-grass ecosystems, in order to stimulate grass growth for grazing, can have deleterious effects on nesting grouse populations. NAGP encourages a much better organized and more effective national fire-suppression system for our western grasslands, one that emphasizes immediate detection and rapid response before rangeland fires get out of control. NAGP further encourages a system of rotational burns in tall and mid-grass prairies, in which only half of grassland parcels is burned annually, thereby providing undisturbed nesting habitat over the other half of the landscape.

10. Exotic and Invasive Species. The welfare of grouse populations is increasingly compromised by the establishment of species not native to ecosystems in which grouse occur, and by the unnaturally increased abundance of some species owing mostly to human-induced changes to the environment. These species range from exotic grasses and weeds that degrade and in some cases replace natural plant communities, to the increased abundance of natural predators such as ravens, raccoons, and foxes. NAGP supports a vigorous National effort to counteract the influences of these species by eradication or reduction in their numbers, thereby restoring the natural biodiversity and integrity of the ecosystems on which native grouse depend for their long term viability as species.

11. Predators. Grouse are naturally preyed upon by a variety of avian and mammalian predators. Healthy and substantial grouse populations living in optimum habitat can withstand the impact of predation (including hunting) with no long-term influence on their numbers. In marginal or degraded habitats, however, or when populations undergo severe reduction in size, or particular species of predators become unnaturally abundant, then predation can become additive to other causes of mortality and a significant factor in the overall equation between natality and mortality. In such situations NAGP recognizes that selective and scientifically monitored and evaluated predator control may be necessary to reduce overall mortality of grouse populations until survival and reproductive output increase sufficiently to counter annual losses, resulting in a positive population growth rate.

12. Water. In the arid West water is the most critically limiting resource both for the burgeoning human economy and for the myriad forms of animals and plants that have evolved in an environment with a scarcity of water. In the past many water diversions and other human uses of water were developed without regard to the needs of wild animals and plants. Where these diversions and uses have clearly jeopardized the continued existence of grouse and associated wildlife and plants, NAGP supports the restoration of stream flows, seeps, and springs to their natural, pre-developed condition, including exclusion of livestock to allow for the existence of healthy plant communities in wetlands, or seeks mitigation to distribute an equitable amount of water to native animals and plants that have been deprived of it.

13. Pesticides. For more than 50 years, ever since the advent of DDT, the natural landscapes and biotic communities of North America have been drenched in a multitude of chemical herbicides, insecticides, and other biocides that are supposed to be good for humanity and its needs for food, fiber, and other economic products. NAGP recognizes the justification for applying such chemicals under some critical and limited circumstances but believes that the long-term, broad scale applications of these chemicals have far exceeded the capacity of natural ecosystems to deal with their deleterious side effects on "non-target" organisms. NAGP, therefore, encourages alternative methods of controlling "pest species" such as use of biological agents (predators, parasites), crop diversification and rotation, and maintenance of ecosystem regulatory functions that naturally dampen populations of potential pest species. In particular, NAGP objects to the widespread practice in grouse country of attempts to control agricultural pests such as grasshoppers on private farmland by application of poisonous chemicals to adjacent federal and state rangelands. We also question the wisdom of continued, annual applications of herbicides that disrupt the natural plant diversity of prairie and shrub steppe ecosystems.

14. Translocation/Reintroduction. NAGP recognizes the utility of these techniques for re-establishing or augmenting wild populations of grouse within the natural range of a species in need of help, but in general they should be regarded as methods of last resort, when it is clear that a species or population cannot be saved or restored to viability in any other way. In any involvement with translocation or reintroduction projects, NAGP will follow the "IUCN Guidelines for Re-introduction" (1998, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U. K.), subject, also, to any relevant state and federal regulations.