Since July 2006, greater sage-grouse deaths from West Nile virus have been reported in Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) investigators say more mortalities may be documented before the end of the year. Ranchers are encouraged to report sage-grouse mortality to their respective wildlife agencies.

West Nile virus has also previously been detected in sage-grouse in California and Utah, as well as Alberta, Canada. Experimental studies at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center have shown that West Nile virus is usually fatal to sage-grouse, resulting in death within six days of infection.

Those handling dead birds should take at least minimal precautions. Anyone who encounters a dead bird and is unsure of why it died should wear protective gloves when handling it, or use an inverted plastic bag to collect the bird. Anyone cleaning wild game should wear disposable latex gloves or similar protective alternative. Cooking meat, including game, to over 170 degrees F. will kill any viruses present in the meat.

To report sage grouse mortality or obtain more information on USGS sage grouse work, contact Kathryn Converse, 608/270-2445, or Bob Dusek, 608/270-2403,
-- Clint Peck