Guinn honors volunteers who developed sage grouse plan |

Guinn honors volunteers who developed sage grouse plan

Gov. Kenny Guinn threw a party Tuesday for more than 100 Nevadans who have volunteered for four years on a plan designed to prevent the sage grouse from being added to the national endangered species list.

If that happens, many of those involved say it would bring harsh restrictions not only on hunters who see the grouse as a game species but deer and other hunters, farmers and ranchers, miners and recreational users of millions of acres in Nevada.

Both Wildlife Director Terry Crawforth and Nevada BLM Director Bob Abbey expressed optimism Tuesday that Nevada’s plan would help prove to federal Fish and Wildlife Service officials the state can improve the habitat for grouse and increase their numbers.

The plan is headed for the federal government, which will take it along with similar plans from 10 other western states including Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon and try to determine whether the sage grouse is an endangered species.

If the states manage to convince the government that management of the grouse should remain in their hands, a good portion of the credit belongs to a group of Yerington high school students.

They are the ones who have done all the complex DNA sampling and analysis on the Nevada biology of Nevada’s sage grouse population.

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“They’ve been doing it basically from A to Z,” said Wildlife Division biologist Shawn Espinosa.

But four of the more than a dozen students who made the trip to Carson City on Tuesday said their work isn’t done yet. Kassy Simkins, Lucas Vaughan, Audrey Hernandez and David Whalin, all Yerington High seniors, said they expect to help answer questions about the biology of sage grouse populations in Nevada before the end of the year. And those answers will be key in the decision-making process.

“We’re trying to determine if there are actual differences between northern and southern populations in Nevada,” said Vaughan.

“We’ve been doing it all the way through the analysis,” said Simkins. She said the students have participated in every step of the process over the past four years, from catching grouse in the field and drawing blood samples to DNA extraction, preparation and analysis.

Whalin said the process involves a lot of sophisticated equipment – more than a quarter million dollars worth obtained through a series of grants. But, according to Hernandez, separating the DNA from the blood sample, “is kind of like a recipe.”

“You throw everything in and the DNA separates out,” she said.

All four say they hope the training and experience will lead to future careers – a crime scene investigator in Simkins’ case and research lab work for the other three.

Gil Yanuk, of Carson City, one of the volunteers who helped draft the plan, said the issue is habitat preservation and restoration. He and Espinosa said piñon pine and junipers have encroached on thousands of acres of once-open sage, cutting into the areas sage grouse can live. The birds eat almost nothing but sage. And Yanuk, a longtime hunter, said horses and other animals sometimes drive the birds away from water holes.

“Unless we can do something to improve their habitat, the numbers will continue to decrease,” he said.

Espinosa said there are as many as 95,000 of the birds in Nevada this year.

“There are habitat issues out there but we feel the number of birds doesn’t warrant (endangered species) listing,” he said.

He also said whatever is finally done to improve the sage grouse’s habitat will probably have to come mostly from the federal government since 87 percent of Nevada is federal land.

Yanuk and Crawforth, however, also made it clear private land owners must get involved since, outside the federal land, Nevada’s best-watered land areas are almost all private.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.