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Sage grouse- raising effort takes flight


Stephen Cornell co-pilots a drone with thermal imaging on a Wednesday morning test flight. The test target was a pheasant, but the intended use of the $30,000 drone and imaging combo is sage grouse.

TRIBUNE PHOTO BY MARK DAVIS



Posted Thursday, April 30, 2020 8:25 am

By Mark Davis With sunrise still 90 minutes away, Karl Bear was already stepping out his front door into Wednesday’s predawn darkness with a worried look on his face. It was the first big day in what promises to be a historic week. Bear, manager of Diamond Wings Upland Game Birds, along with team members working with the Western States Sage Grouse Recovery Foundation, will be collecting wild greater sage grouse eggs from Wyoming nests over the next 20 days. The effort is an attempt to raise the species in captivity — a first in U.S. history. But first, the $30,000 drone and thermal imaging cameras had to be tested. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this nervous,” Bear said. Standing near newly refurbished facilities across from his home, he reminisced. “So many people have been a part of getting to this point,” he said. “You know, it started 14 years ago with an idea of trying this experiment. And gosh, here we are. It’s amazing.” There have been many big days and a few disappointments on the road to what Bear calls “the great experiment.” First, Wyoming Legislature passed House Bill 271 in 2017, a law allowing private game bird farms to raise the West’s iconic grouse. The group has twice been given preliminary approval from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to attempt to collect up to 250 wild eggs, but the cost of preparing facilities forced Diamond Wings Upland Game Birds — then owned by Diemer True — to drop out of the program. Then in 2018, True sold the company to Dennis Brabec, petroleum engineer and co-owner of Fiddleback Farms, seemingly putting the experiment in doubt. The team had to thicken its skin as critics doubted the project could succeed. But things started looking up last year when True organized a foundation to help fund the project, facilities were improved and the company was given the green light for a third time. With a sunset clause on the legislation of five years and the difficulty of collecting eggs, hatching chicks and eventually attempting to rear a brood stock, this spring may be the last chance to prove Bear’s theories on raising grouse in captivity. It was now or never. The Game and Fish only approved the use of drones in the effort about six weeks ago. Bear had been assured the drone and thermal imaging technology could be used to assist the foundation’s team in finding nesting hens, but he wanted proof. “I’m a ‘gotta see it with my own eyes’ kind of guy,” he said. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE