Transcript of Save the Sage Video
Sage-grouse are intricately linked to Western sagebrush habitats. sage-grouse depend on the presence of sagebrush to survive. The quality and quantity of sagebrush has declined over the last 50 years to the extent that very little pristine sagebrush habitat, unaffected by human activity, remains. Only about half of the suitable habitat once present in the historical range of sage-grouse is still intact and much of that has been degraded.
Accordingly sage-grouse populations continue to decline. North America sage-grouse populations have declined 33 percent over the past 30 to 40 years. sage-grouse have disappeared from the States of Arizona Kansas Nebraska New Mexico Oklahoma and from British Columbia in Canada. Canadian populations of sage-grouse are officially listed as endangered.
Montana is fortunate to have some of the best and most intact “greater” sage-grouse habitat of all the states. The other states and Canada with varying degrees of habitat intactness are Washington, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian Provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan. With over 30 percent of the remaining sagebrush habitat located on private land, ranchers and private landowners in Montana have a significant role to play in providing suitable conditions for the survival, perpetuation and repopulation of the species.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Montana is working with producers to manage this important habitat. NRCS personnel are providing technical assistance for rangeland inventory and designing grazing systems that will have benefits for the resource producers and sage-grouse. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides cost share for implementing the grazing system.
An improved grazing system, for example helps NRCS and producers evaluate what elements are impacting the land. Monitoring documentation allows the producer to make adjustments to the prescribed grazing system.
Bruce Waage, the Montana NRCS sage-grouse coordinator, private lands, recommends qualified producers take advantage of the managed grazing program.
“Sure we might tweak some things, we’ve learned some things with it but it’s a good program because almost every acre that sage-grouse occupy is grazed, and so grazing is fundamental to sage-grouse. And so grazing can be negative, it can be positive, it can be indifferent and we feel this program is directed at positive grazing both for the landowner and for the range, and for sage-grouse.”
To be eligible for NRCS cost-share funding for sage-grouse in Montana, producers must have sagebrush grassland within four miles of a known sage-grouse breeding area and must be willing to upgrade their current grazing management. Cost-share is offered to help producers with water-developments, cross-fencing, and other practices designed to promote better grazing management which translates into improved range conditions for the livestock producer and sage-grouse. Producers are required to keep records on grazing use, vegetation monitoring, precipitation data, as well as photographic documentation for the length of the contract.
The conversion and fragmentation of sagebrush habitat represents the largest threat to remaining sage-grouse populations. Altered non-natural wildfire regimes are a large threat to sage-grouse habitat in the West. It can take more than 50 years for the widely distributed sub-species “Wyoming” big sagebrush species to recover. Alternatively, human fire prevention post settlement has encouraged juniper, Ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir to invade sagebrush stands leading to further loss of perennial grasses, forbs and sagebrush canopy cover. sage-grouse intrinsically avoid treed areas which harbor predators and influences their distribution on the landscape. In regions where soils are suitable for agricultural use, complete loss of sage-grouse habitat has been historically pervasive, starting with settlement to today. Small increases in tilled land in south-central Montana have been linked to a significant decline in the number of breeding male sage-grouse.
Addressing land-management practices associated with sage-grouse declines will require continued cooperation among range scientists, wildlife biologists, private landowners and public land managers. Long-term conservation management plans for sage-grouse should include strategies to identify and map remaining sage-grouse populations and sagebrush, their habitat – and provide outreach and assistance programs to promote the ecological integrity and maintenance for long-term sustainability of the resource and explore opportunities for enhancement and restoration of sagebrush habitat to reverse localized fragmentation.
Jon Siddoway is the Montana State Rangeland Management Specialist for the NRCS.
“A variety of federal conservation programs are available to help landowners with sage-grouse conservation efforts. To be truly effective, sage-grouse conservation measures are needed at regional landscape levels with cooperation from public and private landowners, government agencies, conservation organizations and academic institutions.”
Your awareness of the diminishing numbers of sage-grouse and the species dependency on good sagebrush habitat for its survival is important. For more information on conservation programs that can help and what you might be able to do visit the NRCS Web page at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov.
The ultimate goal is to help ensure sustainable use of good sagebrush habitat By both human and animal species such as the sage-grouse.