Strutting Sage Grouse Lead to Temporary Closures at Grand Teton National Park

Strutting sage grouse have prompted Grand Teton National Park officials to temporarily restrict access in one area of the park to protect the breeding birds. NPS photo.

A temporary access closure has been implemented in Grand Teton National Park from now until mid-May to protect sage grouse during their mating period.

The closure is around the Moulton Ranch lek (a seasonal mating arena) off the Antelope Flats Road in the park. A quarter-mile radius around the lek site will be posted as closed to all public entry through May 15 to minimize human disturbance and reduce stress on grouse that traditionally use this site during their annual mating season. Violations of the wildlife protection closure may result in a citation.

Sage grouse are highly sensitive to human disturbance. Human activity near a lek can trigger birds to flush or leave the area, and continual disturbances can cause birds to permanently abandon or re-locate a lek site, according to park officials.

To minimize disturbance to grouse, yet allow for bird watching, an adjacent viewing area has been established at the southwest side of the closure perimeter. Visitors may reach the viewing area by parking at a small pullout near one of the Moulton cabins and walking along a gated dirt road that heads north from the junction with Antelope Flats Road; the
viewing spot is located just east of this dirt road.

Visitors must observe the wildlife closure signs, stay within the viewing area, and not approach grouse at any time. Visitors should arrive well before sunrise and not leave until after the birds have completed their morning display, remain as quiet as possible, and refrain from talking loudly or making unnecessary noise while at the viewing area.

Park rangers will be leading early-morning trips to observe the strutting sage grouse as they perform their springtime mating dance on this traditional lek. Strutting grouse tours are currently scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays during the weekends of April 10-11, April 17-18, and April 24-25.

Trips begin at 5:30 a.m. from the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, and reservations are required. Call the Discovery Center at 739.3399 to make reservations and obtain information about what to wear and bring along on these ranger-led excursions. The April ranger-led tours offer local residents and park visitors an excellent opportunity to see the unique antics of sage grouse as they perform their seasonal mating dance.

Sage grouse populations have been declining over several years throughout much of the West, in part due to habitat loss. Recently, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the population of sage grouse has declined by 90 percent and their habitat has been reduced by 50 percent across the western states. Consequently, the birds were named a “candidate species” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The FWS has plans to annually review the status of sage grouse and work with western states, such as Wyoming, on conservation programs as part of the recent decision on listing sage grouse under the ESA.