The California Fish and Game Commission acted Monday, Aug. 27, in an emergency session to reduce sage grouse hunting permits to zero in Lassen County.
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), responding to wildfires in the area, proposed that the Fish and Game Commission effectively close the September 2012 sage grouse hunting season in both the East Lassen Zone and Central Lassen Zone.
Officials expect the Rush Fire, which started Aug. 12 from lightning strikes and has burned more than 300,000 acres, to be contained Thursday, Aug. 30.
The wildfires have burned nearly all of the Eastern Lassen Zone, which is the highest quality sage habitat for all sage grouse in Lassen County, according to DFG Sage Grouse Coordinator Scott Gardner.
Although the Central Lassen Zone has not burned, DFG also recommended reducing the permits to zero in that zone because of uncertainty over the impact of the fire on the sage grouse population.
A portion of the birds from that zone winter in the Eastern Lassen Zone; the impact of the fire on the population will not be known until surveys are conducted next year. Concerned about the sustainability of Lassen County sage grouse and future hunting seasons, DFG recommended closure of both zones.
The commission voted unanimously in favor of DFG’s recommendations and asked the department to evaluate the impacts of the fire and report back with a recommendation for the 2013 hunting season.
Sage grouse are eligible for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act because of loss and degradation of habitat, in part due to wildfire and invasive plants.
Sage grouse populations have been doing relatively well in recent years. DFG annually monitors sage grouse populations and will use next winter’s surveys to assess the impacts of the fires. DFG will seek to work with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on habitat restoration opportunities in the future regarding this important range for sage grouse.