Improving Sage Grouse Habitat through Revegetation and Rangeland Management
Reduced Sage-Grouse Population
Sage-grouse originally inhabited 13 states and three Canadian provinces. The species was first described for science by Lewis and Clark during their 1804 expedition. Sage-grouse are currently found in parts of 11 states and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Sage-grouse strongholds remain in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Even in these states, changing land uses have raised concerns over the species’ future. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has considered adding the species to the threatened and endangered species list. Conversion to urban development and the resulting fragmentation of millions of acres of sage-grouse habitat have contributed greatly to the decline of the species. Grazing management strategies that change plant species composition, structure, or production over time are detrimental. Oil and gas development, especially near leks (strutting areas) during the critical time of breeding, can cause additional pressure. Sage-grouse are also prone to injury and death from collisions with fences, power poles/lines, and vehicles.
Issues Posing Risk to Sage-Grouse
Wildlife agencies have identified 12 major issues in sage-grouse conservation. Four of the issues can be addressed through proper rangeland management and revegetation of critical habitats.
Vegetation. Past management and/or use of rangelands has altered the density, structure, and composition of big sagebrush and related understory plant communities. In some cases, this has reduced seasonal habitat for sage-grouse.
Grazing. The effects of livestock on sage-grouse habitat, and on the birds themselves, may be positive, negative, or neutral depending on the specific grazing prescription and the site.
Noxious Weeds. Noxious weeds and other undesirable weed species have spread across all western states at an unprecedented rate. Invasive plants such as cheatgrass and juniper displace desirable native plant species and degrade rangeland health. In many cases the displaced species are critical to sage-grouse survival.
Mining and Energy Development. Much of the nation’s oil and gas resources are found under sage-grouse habitats across the western United States. Careless development and production activities can fragment and degrade sage-grouse habitat.
Loss of sagebrush-grasslands in some western states has approached 50 percent. This type of habitat is important to sage-grouse throughout their life cycle. Sage-grouse chicks and juveniles require habitat with a diverse succulent plant community offering nutritious grazing and a supply of insects. Adult sage-grouse rely heavily on Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush for food in winter, and expand their diets to include various forbs and insects in spring and summer.
Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Revegetation and Management Options for Improving Sage-Grouse Habitat
Sage-grouse habitat can be established by reclaiming disturbed lands with diverse plant communities that include native forbs, grasses, and shrubs. See the following tables for native species and cultivars/germplasms available for revegetation within the Intermountain West, the Great Basin, and the Northern Great Plains plant adaptation zones.
Introduced plants that also have potential value for sage-grouse habitat improvement include alfalfa varieties, ‘Appar’ blue flax, and ‘Delar’ small burnet. Other important forbs during spring and summer nesting and brood-rearing include common dandelion, salsify, and prickley lettuce.
Studies have found that sage-grouse populations and habitats are very compatible with livestock and grazing management. Practices, such as rotational grazing systems and exclusion of riparian areas, can enhance plant community vigor, suppress noxious weeds, and sustain diverse plant communities with forb components that benefit sage-grouse.
Many NRCS conservation programs, including the Conservation Security Program (CSP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), can help improve sage-grouse habitat.
For More Information
For additional information on NRCS conservation programs that can help improve sage-grouse habitat, contact your local conservation district and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The office nearest you can be located on the web at USDA Service Center Locator. Other sources of information on sage-grouse include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and state fish and game departments.
If you encounter any problems with the file provided on this page, please contact Technical Resources at 406-587-6822.
This information is also available to download as a brochure in Adobe Reader format.
Improving Sage-Grouse Habitat through Revegetation and Rangeland Management (PDF; 412 KB)