State’s sage grouse program manager resigns

Posted 1/27/22

As sage grouse populations shrink across Wyoming, the state’s top expert on the species, Leslie Schreiber, has resigned her post.

Schreiber turned in her notice and immediately took personal …

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State’s sage grouse program manager resigns


As sage grouse populations shrink across Wyoming, the state’s top expert on the species, Leslie Schreiber, has resigned her post.

Schreiber turned in her notice and immediately took personal leave earlier this month. An interoffice memo about her decision circulated on Friday.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department public information officer Sara DiRienzo said the agency couldn’t comment on personnel matters, but that the state would start the search for a new program manager for the imperiled species.

“We’re grateful for her work during her tenure with us, both as a Cody Region wildlife biologist and as the sage grouse/sagebrush biologist, and we wish her the best,” DiRienzo said. “The department will continue to manage sage grouse with the extensive expertise we have within Game and Fish.”

Game and Fish non-game bird and mammal supervisor Zack Walker said Schreiber — who couldn’t be reached for comment — faced a lot of stress as a sage grouse and sagebrush biologist.

“I think she just took a completely different turn to her career,” Walker said of her departure from the agency. “She just decided to take, I guess, a different track for her life.”

Schreiber recently warned that grouse numbers were approaching numbers low enough to be a “dire situation.” 

“Based on the data in hand, Wyoming sage grouse populations are heading back to mid-1990s levels, which is alarming,” she told WyoFile for a Jan. 7 article. “This is particularly concerning because it does not follow the historic patterns of population cycles in the state.”

Populations hit an all-time low in the early 1990s following an extended drought and loss of sagebrush habitat. Wyoming finds itself in a drought again today.

Walker recruited Schreiber from Indiana. Walker was previously the herpetology program manager at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, where Schreiber was a “tough intern” while working on her undergraduate degree at Purdue.

Walker encouraged Schreiber to apply for a job in his department at the Wyoming Game and Fish. She came on as a temporary worker while getting her master’s from the University of Missouri, with an emphasis on sage grouse reproduction. Her first assignments were in Wyoming’s herpetology program.

Then, when Greybull wildlife biologist Tom Easterly passed away suddenly at the age of 50, Schreiber stepped into his role in 2014. She stayed as the area’s lead biologist until the retirement of former grouse program manager Tom Christiansen, who had held the position for more than 30 years.

Schreiber took the job in late 2018.

Wyoming has the highest population of sage grouse and more than 25% of the nation’s grouse habitat, and populations are dropping. Wings collected from grouse that were harvested by hunters in the state last year suggested a ratio of 0.8 chicks per hen — about half of what is needed for a healthy, growing population, Walker said. The drought in the West is of great concern for the species and doesn’t bode well for their immediate future, he said.

In 2021, an average of 16.8 males per active lek were counted, he said, which is down about 13% from the previous year. 

Groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species multiple times, an action that would likely have significant impacts on oil and gas development, ranching and other industries in the West. In 2010, the service found a listing was warranted, but precluded by higher priority actions. A collaborative agreement between multiple states and the federal government to protect habitat helped avoid a listing of the grouse as a threatened species in 2015.

However, more petitions could come — and Fish and Wildlife leaders could change their mind if populations continue to drop.

“We’ll keep paying attention to those numbers,” Walker said. “And hope the population cycle starts going back up and see kind of where we go, and [hope for] a wetter spring in 2022.”

Currently, more than 65% of the state is listed in severe drought and 100% of the state is listed as abnormally dry.