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Livestock Grazing Management

The Following discussion of Recreational Disturbance of Sage-Grouse in Montana was taken from the Montana Management Plan and Strategies for Sage-Grouse in Montana – Final 2005. Signatory agencies to the plan are the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana Natural Resource and Conservation, USDA, Forest Service, Regional Office, USDI, Bureau of Land Management and USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Sagebrush communities provide critical habitat for sage-grouse, produce a diversity of tangible commodities, and satisfy many societal values that are important to the U.S. economy and the well-being of Montana and U.S. citizens. Sagebrush-dominated rangeland in Montana that is occupied by sage-grouse includes private, tribal, state, and federal lands. Rangelands in Montana and the Northern Great Plains evolved with grazing and extreme climatic disturbances. However, many western rangelands were over-stocked with livestock in the late-1800s and early 1900s, thus altering the composition and productivity of some sagebrush and other vegetative communities. With the development and implementation of proper range management practices, vegetation condition of many rangelands has improved. Sagebrush communities typically have forage value for livestock as well as providing quality habitat for sage-grouse. Livestock effects on sage-grouse habitat, and on the birds, may be positive, negative, or neutral depending on the specific grazing prescription and on the ecological site. Livestock grazing has been responsible for retaining expansive tracts of sagebrush-dominated rangeland from conversion to cropland. In terms of habitat quality, properly managed grazing can stimulate growth of grasses and forbs, and thus livestock can be used to manipulate the plant community toward a desired condition. For example, rest-rotation grazing systems designed after Hormay (1970) provide for long-term range health and, in comparison to other systems, was found to produce up to four times as many prairie grouse (i.e., sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens) compared with other grazing systems on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands (Rice and Carter 1982). Although this study doesn’t address sage-grouse directly, the effect of improved residual cover, in response to grazing management, would likely have positive implications for sage-grouse habitat. Management may not, however, restore all degraded range through grazing alone. Likewise, appropriate grazing practices may not totally compensate for other influences affecting sage-grouse abundance.

Please access Montana Plan and Conservation Strategies for Sage-Grouse in Montana – Final on the Sage-Grouse Management page of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Web site.