The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is now accepting public comment on a proposed rule that would allow private businesses to “farm” wild Greater sage-grouse in captivity using wild eggs taken from nests and then to release those pen-raised birds back into the wild for a profit. This proposed rule, and the law on which it is based, undermines the long-standing principle that Wyoming’s wildlife is wild and is to be managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department—not private, for-profit entities. And yet, we are bound to follow the law, even as we work on efforts to repeal it. In the context of this effort, our focus must be on ensuring that the final rules adequately prevent harm to wild sage-grouse.
Your help is needed between June 14–August 23 to help ensure that the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission develops the strongest possible rule to prevent harm to Wyoming’s Greater sage-grouse.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Send a comment in writing by 5:00 p.m. on July 25 to the following address:
Wyoming Game and Fish Department
3030 Energy Lane
Casper WY 82604
You can also submit a comment online using the WGFD’s website:
IN YOUR COMMENTS, URGE THE WGFD TO:
- Prohibit the collection of eggs in core population areas for Greater sage-grouse. As protected habitat areas, core population areas should be off limits to this for-profit experiment that is likely to have disruptive effects to wild grouse. The law that requires the Game and Fish to develop this rule, Enrolled Act 91, requires the rule to identify “areas approved for collection of eggs.” We recommend that egg collection areas identified by the rule be located outside the state’s core population areas. Known as “General Habitat Management Areas”, the millions of areas of sage-grouse habitat located outside of core habitat provide ample opportunities for sage-grouse farmers to collect eggs while at the same time protecting the most productive areas from further disturbance.
- Cap the number of licenses issued by WGFD to three (3). The proposed rule authorizes the issuance of up to five (5) licenses for the collection of eggs, each with the ability to collect up to 250 wild eggs per year. One of the best things the rule can do to limit the negative effects of egg collection is to place a cap the number of licenses to three (3) or fewer. This simple action—which implements an explicit requirement of Enrolled Act 91 to set the number of licenses—would significantly reduce the harmful effects by reducing the number of eggs that can be taken to no more than 750 per year.
- Restrict the sale of eggs. Enrolled Act 91 authorizes the collection of eggs only for “the purpose of establishing a captive breeding program.” The proposed rule should be revised to absolutely prohibit the sale of greater sage-grouse eggs for any other purpose, including the sale of eggs to third party purchasers, such as egg collectors who sell and trade such things on eBay. This restriction should apply to all eggs, both viable and non-viable. The absence in the rule of a restriction on the sale of eggs for other purposes is a glaring omission that must be corrected.
- Prohibit the privatization of knowledge. The proposed rule should be revised to specify that information and experience gained by the licensee during the term of the license is public information and as such, should not be treated as proprietary trade secrets. It’s bad enough that certain individuals in the state wish to privatize wild animals for profit, but allowing the same people to profit from the information and knowledge gained while doing so is completely unacceptable.
- Require the licensee to pay for the costs. The WGFD is funded primarily by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. The costs of administering this grouse farming program, from reviewing the applications, to supervising the collection of eggs, to conducting inspections of facilities, should not be passed on to hunters and anglers. The rule should contain cost recovery provisions to ensure that the licensee, not the public, pays for the cost of the program.
- Egg collection activities must be supervised by the WGFD. The proposed rule allows—but does not require—the WGFD to supervise the collection of eggs. Collection activities will take place in remote areas of the state where no one is watching. To ensure that all requirements are enforced, WGFD personnel need to be present to monitor egg collection activities.
- The licensee must be held accountable for actions of his contractors. If something goes wrong during the operation, such as a violation of egg collection limits, experience tells us that the licensee will attempt to escape liability by blaming the contractor for the violation rather than accepting responsibility for the incident. If a contractor hired by the licensee violates the law, that violation should be considered a violation of the licensee.
- Recordkeeping requirements must be strengthened. The proposed rule requires, among other things, that the licensee report eggs damaged or destroyed during the collection process, and count those eggs as part of the licensee’s maximum authorized egg collection total for the year. This provision should be revised to require reporting of all eggs damaged or destroyed at any point in the process: from collection, to transportation, to placing in the facility. For example, if a vehicle transporting eggs crashes, or if an egg incubator at a facility malfunctions, or if a holding facility burns to the ground or collapses under snow weight, any of which could result in substantial losses, those significant events should be reported and accounted for.
- Impose penalties for non-compliance. The proposed rule states that the WGFD may suspend, revoke or not renew the certification granted to a licensee if violations occur. Yet minor game and fish violations may generate a substantial ticket or even jail time. Why should game bird farm operators be treated any differently?
- Strengthen bad actor requirements. The proposed rule allows the WGFD to deny a licensee whose certification has been revoked for bad behavior from reapplying for a new certificate for 18 months. The rule should be strengthened to ensure that bad actors can’t simply reapply under a different corporate name. A time period greater than 18 months should also be imposed.
- Expand restrictions on methods of the collection of eggs. The proposed rule allows the use of pointing breed dogs, but does not limit their number or the number of human handlers that may be actively searching for nests. It seems prudent to place limits on these numbers to minimize disturbance to nesting sage-grouse.
- Limit the release of sage-grouse to non-core areas. The proposed rule allows the WGFD to “restrict areas of the state from sage grouse release to protect wild populations of sage grouse.” To protect the genetic integrity of the greater sage-grouse, we recommend that farm raised birds not be released into core population areas of the state.
- Prohibit genetic manipulation. To protect the genetic integrity of the species, the WGFD rule should prohibit the licensee from engaging in activities that are designed to alter the natural genetic composition of sage-grouse, e.g. selective breeding for size, adaptability, survival, etc.
- Specify the maximum number of nests and egg collection areas that may be disturbed, by each licensee and in total. Enrolled Act 91 provides that “no more than forty (40) nest sites in a single collection area may be disturbed by the game bird farm licensee in any calendar year.” But the law does not place any limit on the number of licensees who may enter each collection area or on the number of collection sites that may be utilized in any given year. This deficiency must be corrected in the proposed rule. As it stands now, because these important decisions are deferred to the Certificate of Compliance from the Department, in theory every single one of the licensees authorized by the WGFD could disturb as many as 40 nests per collection area, apparently with no limit on the number of collection areas that could be targeted. To better protect wild sage-grouse, the rule being developed by WGFD should establish firm upper limits on both the number of designated collection areas and on the number of nests that may be disturbed in each collection area by each licensee and in total.
- Require a strong monitoring program. Because something of this scale has never been done before (as scientists and wildlife managers have long-opposed its need or efficacy for greater sage-grouse), the efforts must have a rigorous monitoring program to determine the success of the program in a statistically-valid manner. Monitoring should be done for both the released birds and for the wild population where pen-raised sage-grouse are being released. This is important because researchers have reported that release programs have negatively impacted wild populations by (1) decreasing breeding success of wild individuals, (2) increasing predation of the population in general, (3) spreading disease, and (4) weakening genetics of the wild population.
Thank you for your help in raising these concerns with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The proposed rule will eventually go before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission for further consideration and final adoption on August 23, 2017. We’ll be back in touch with you before then, but please also consider attending the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission hearing, August 23, 2017 in Casper to provide your comments in person.
Senior Conservation Advocate