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Marking Fences Reduces Sage-Grouse Collisions

Marking Fences Reduces Sage-Grouse Collisions

Sage grouse across the West face a deadly hazard each spring—fences the birds can’t see when flying to and from traditional leks (breeding grounds). The collisions are widespread. However, marking fences near leks can reduce strikes by up to 83 percent, according to a study by Bryan Stevens at the University of Idaho.

photo shows white fence markers visible on barbed wire fence.Today, that science is available as a practical, range-wide tool to guide placement of fence markers. The white vinyl markers are snapped onto the top strand of a fence to increase visibility. Two key factors that affect whether birds will strike fences are ruggedness of the terrain and distance from a lek.

This tool will help those working through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Sage-Grouse Initiative to develop habitat for an at-risk species. To date, initiative participants nationwide have marked or moved 350 miles of fences near leks, resulting in an estimated reduction of 1,500 to 1,800 collisions. In Montana, participants have marked 40 miles of fence, which is an estimated reduction of 200 sage-grouse collisions.

Sage-Grouse Initiative partners teamed up with NRCS to develop the new tool through the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), a multi-agency effort to provide useful guides based on quantitative science.

The science behind the fence-marking tool came from a rigorous study in Idaho conducted by Stevens that supplied the data for a range-wide model. With the new planning tool in hand, public and private land managers can focus their resources on a small portion of the landscape (6 to 14 percent) that poses a high collision risk (more than one bird) over a breeding season.

The Fence Collision Risk Tool maps collision risk within three kilometers of known leks and incorporates topography. Generally, the flatter the terrain, the greater the risk fences pose for sage-grouse near leks. The birds tend to skim low over the sagebrush when flat, but fly much higher when the terrain is steeper. The closer the fence is to a lek, the higher the risk as well. The model is designed for use in conjunction with local knowledge and on-site professional judgment.

Download a copy of the CEAP Insight, “Applying the Sage-Grouse Fence Collision Risk Tool to Reduce Bird Strikes.

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Applying the Sage-Grouse Fence Collision Risk Tool to Reduce Bird Strikes (PDF; 637 KB)