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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A lawmaker's skepticism that sage grouse can be raised in captivity and released into the wild to bolster their numbers won't keep Wyoming from trying the method under a bill that cleared the state Senate on Monday.
The Senate voted 24-6 to establish a sage grouse captive-breeding program. The bill would allow licensed breeders to collect up to 250 eggs from the wild each year to try to hatch and raise in captivity.
The measure now goes back to the House for consideration of Senate changes. From there, it would go to Gov. Matt Mead.
Several studies show captive-breeding of sage grouse has a "lousy" success rate, argued state Sen. Cale Case of Lander, an opponent of the bill.
"The numbers are all against them. I'm all for private enterprise. I'm happy they want to try this, but by removing the eggs from the wild, they're reducing the success of the wild," Case said.
Proponents argued that Wyoming might as well try raising sage grouse before the birds potentially go into a decline that would make such an effort impossible.
"The time to experiment with overcoming the difficulties with a breeding program is now, when there's plenty of habitat and plenty of birds," said Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper.
Sage grouse are chicken-sized, ground-dwelling birds that inhabit the West's vast, sagebrush expanses. Development including oil and gas drilling and home construction has depleted the birds' habitat and caused their numbers to fall significantly from historical levels.
Home to perhaps more of the birds than any other state, Wyoming remains a stronghold for the greater sage grouse as their numbers have declined sharply in several of the 10 other states they inhabit.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced in 2015 it would not protect the birds as a threatened or endangered species.
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