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Sage Grouse

A male sage grouse fights for the attention of female sage grouse southwest of Rawlins, Wyo., in May 2008. Groups around Wyoming are in the process of allocating the state's $1.2 million budget for sage grouse habitat enhancement.

CASPER, Wyo. — Citizens' groups around Wyoming are in the process of allocating the state's $1.2 million budget for sage grouse habitat enhancement.

Last month, the Bates Hole/Shirley Basin Local Sage Grouse Working Group divvied $126,000 for projects ranging from studying the impact of wind development to controlling invasive plants to teaching kids about the birds.

The group is one of eight in the state that evaluate projects and decide where to put the state's money.

The next group meets at 9 a.m. Friday at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Green River office.

The groups began in 2004, said Tom Christiansen, sage grouse coordinator for Wyoming Game and Fish. They are composed of Wyoming citizens representing agriculture, conservation, energy, sportsmen and government agencies, Christiansen said.

The goal of the groups, according to a Wyoming Game and Fish media release, is to improve sage grouse population numbers and avoid endangered-species listing.

The groups evaluate projects in their area and decide where to put money, Christiansen said.

The projects the Bates Hole/Shirley Basin group picked will provide needed information on sage grouse habitat, said Stacey Scott, chairwoman of the group.

"We know very little about sagebrush ecosystems, which are very complex," Scott said in the release. "We need to understand them better."

The group also decided to fund an education project, giving money to Wyoming Audubon to create a traveling program. The money will help fund salaries for naturalists to give presentations in several Wyoming counties.

"Many children have no idea about sagebrush ecosystems, so just giving them the basics is very important," Scott said in the release. "In just over a decade, all these kids will be voting and making decisions, so it's important for them to understand the challenges facing sage grouse."

The Green River area group has helped fund research, such as a University of Utah study on how ravens impact sage grouse. It also has purchased reflectors to put on fences where sage grouse collide, according to Corby McGinnis, chairman of the group.

McGinnis is a rancher between Big Piney and Kemmerer. McGinnis said the projects have seemed to help area sage grouse populations.

One study the group gave funds to identify winter range for grouse near Baggs. An energy company used the data to avoid those areas for drilling, McGinnis said.

McGinnis said the groups offer a chance for the people of Wyoming to address the sage grouse issue, instead of having federal mandates.

The public is invited to the meetings and time is available for public comment.