Sage Grouse Population Dynamics
Prior to European settlement, this species was considered abundant in parts of the state. Although considered less common, sage grouse were thought to be found in several counties east of the current range. As land-use changed with settlement, the sage grouse range shrunk as more sagebrush was lost to cropland expansion and altered by livestock grazing which impacted the natural vegetative communities and reduced available cover.
Early hunting records are sparse; however it is thought that high harvest in the early 1900s contributed to the decline of sage grouse. Department records indicate that the sage grouse season reopened in 1955 where 59 birds were harvested. Thereafter, the season was open and closed with little information available in respect to harvest. The season was again closed from 1980-1999, and re-opened in 2000. Since then, an average of 36 hunters per year take the field with an average of 18 sage grouse harvested annually. Hunters are interviewed in the field and biological data is ascertained to determine age and sex information, providing some insight to reproduction; although acquired from a limited sample size.
The current range of both sagebrush habitat and sage grouse are quite similar to that of 30 years ago. The majority of sage grouse are found in Harding and Butte counties, although smaller numbers exist in Perkins and northwest Meade counties. One known lek in Fall River County continues to be monitored; however it seems that sage grouse numbers continue to decline in that area.
Sage grouse are monitored by spring lek counts. Observers count the total number of males on each lek and this information is used as a reference point to compare current numbers to the previous year and historical numbers. In the spring of 2007, a total of 31 leks were surveyed, 24 were considered active and had displaying males, with a total of 560 males counted. Through data collected by spring lek counts and current research projects conducted by South Dakota State University, the estimated breeding population of sage grouse in the spring of 2007 was 1,500.