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Sage-Grouse in North Dakota

Sage-Grouse in North Dakota Video Transcript

View the Sage-Grouse in North Dakota video on YouTube.


Narrator: Sage-grouse are intricately linked to sage brush habitats. Sage-grouse depend on the presence of sagebrush to survive. The quality and quantity of sagebrush has declined over the last 50 years so that only about half of the suitable habitat once present in the historical range of sage-grouse is still intact. Today, North Dakota encompasses a small portion of the sage-grouse habitat in the nation. This habitat, about 490 square miles, is in Golden Valley, Bowman, and Slope Counties.

Wendy Bartholomay, NRCS, Bowman-Slope District Conservationist: As far as sage-grouse habitat goes, we’re standing in the prime of some of it. This would be what we call our core area. The range spreads over the western half of Bowman and Slope counties. The core is within an area 3 miles around each lek site.

Narrator: Sage-grouse habitat requirements, like other wildlife, include food, cover, water, and space.

Dave Dewald, NRCS, Biologist: The bird nests close to where they lek. Lekking sites are areas where the birds dance in spring. They have drumming grounds. They come in, they dance, they display, then the females come in, breeding takes place, and then they all nest within about 1.5 miles to 3 miles of the lekking site.

Wendy: That habitat area and brooding area would need to provide for them all the things that they need: water, grasslands, especially sage. In the case of sage, they’re looking typically for big sage, but will use the silver sage.

Dave: They brood in areas that are a little bit moister, so they like riparian zones or areas with a little extra moisture in the landscape where the water will run in and the grass is growing a little more vigorous. And they need a lot of insects. The broods need insects to get the protein they need to survive and grow and come off to make it through the first growing season and into winter. Winter habitat is very similar to the summer habitat in that the big sage has to be present. However, in the winter time, their diet is basically 100 percent big sage leaves.

Narrator: According to the North Dakota Sage-Grouse Management Plan, the amount of suitable sage grouse habitat in North Dakota has been reduced by approximately 40 percent since 1950. Habitat fragmentation is considered a primary factory in this reduction.

Dave: Preserving habitat for the sage-grouse is important because the more fragmentation that you get, the fewer birds you’re going to have. If you fragment the landscape with fences, power lines, roads, cropland, oil wells, those types of fragmentation issues or concerns have an impact on sage-grouse. Some species, for instance the pheasant, will be able to do really well on introduced grasses. They’ll be able to do really well on tree plantings. They do well with cropping in their habitat and their range, whereas sage-grouse is the opposite of that. It’s important to preserve their habitat in large chunks. If you add trees to the landscape, they avoid them. If you start adding cropland to the landscape, you start taking away the habitat they have for lekking and for nesting and predators get introduced. In the near future, NRCS will be developing a strategy plan to meld the sage-grouse initiative dollars into the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s sage-grouse plan.

Narrator: Declining habitat and sage-grouse populations prompted a study of the bird by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dave: In the spring of 2010, the greater sage-grouse was listed as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of that, the NRCS developed a sage-grouse initiative to help put habitat on the land for the bird.

Narrator: As a candidate species, the sage-grouse is proposed for but not yet listed as threatened or endangered. Many people are working together to reduce threats to sage-grouse habitat, increase population numbers, and keep the sage-grouse from being added to the threatened or endangered species list.

Dave: We’re trying to develop a partnership with all the stakeholders including the landowners. The landowners are working together in a group they’re created called GRASS, which is a local working group for helping the sage-grouse and helping each other understand what the needs of the sage-grouse are. It also helps the agencies work with those landowners.

Wendy: Partnership efforts are widespread. NRCS, the Bowman-Slope Conservation District has been a great supporter of the whole initiative and of getting a local work group started within this area. The local work group itself, the GRASS group, will become an important partner. Other partners that we have been working with are North Dakota Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, BLM, Forest Service, and the list does go on and on. Many more partners keep coming to the table each time we have a meeting. The efforts of all of them combined are what’s going to make this a success.

Rob Brooks, Bowman County Producer, GRASS Member: It seems to me they’re outreached even to us ranchers to get some input on how things should go forward. And I think that’s important to get landowners to want to get their buy-in on anything, I think their input is valuable. One of the things that we’re kind of trying to concentrate on as a group is trying to bring in education that ranchers can go to and adapt and hopefully come up with some ways that they can make their place more profitable and that we can leave an environment that’s conducive to populations coming back.

Dave: So, we work with all those agencies as a partnership to take a look at some of the threats to the bird, some of the resource concerns so we can work with ways to alleviate those threats. We also work together on a long-range plan on how NRCS can use its sage-grouse initiative dollars to work within the realm of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department strategy plan to promote and protect sage-grouse.

Narrator: Agriculture is important in keeping large segments of sage-grouse range unfragmented. Livestock producers that manage the quality their soil and forage resources through grazing systems, range plantings, cover crops, and other practices improve sage-grouse habitat as well as their bottom line.

Dave: Agriculture is important in terms of ranchers keeping their rangeland rangeland with cattle on the landscape. Sage-grouse can coexist with ranchers very well. A planned grazing system that leaves residual cover such as grasses with the big sage is excellent in terms of nesting and brood habitat and it also is good for the rancher in terms of their return on the dollar.

Rob: Any time we can get cattle, cross-fences, and water and things, we can better manipulate the vegetation we have out here for the benefit of the cattle and we can end up leaving more habitat for the birds and other animals too. If we can preserve these landscapes, I think species like the sage-grouse have a better chance of surviving if we’ve got viable ranches and families out here working them. If we can keep it profitable, you’ll keep young people coming in. Hopefully, they’ll be raising families and that can translate on down to schools and businesses. NRCS is working on a sage hen project down here and we’re utilized some cost-share funds with them to do some different things. We’ve put some bird ramps in tanks, going forward we’re going to put in a solar pumping unit and run a pipeline that helps in cattle distribution in some pastures. I think it’s a really good program. I’ve got some neighbors that have gotten some use out of it. I think in the long-run it’s going to improve sage hen habitat, make ranching a little more profitable here, and I think it’s a good deal.

Wendy: They’re looking at it and saying, we need to take this opportunity to improve the habitat for the sage-grouse and at the same time, that should improve our business.

Narrator: NRCS is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps producers, on a voluntary basis, to manage their lands in a way that improves their natural resources. Through the sage-grouse special initiative, NRCS used expertise of rangeland specialists and cost-share funding to help ranchers improve the quality of sagebrush landscapes for sage-grouse habitat.

Jon Hettig, NRCS, Rangeland Management Specialist: NRCS is here. We’re providing financial and technical assistance to help improve their grazing operation. In theory, if we work to improve their grazing operation, the bird should come along with the improved rangeland health.

Dave: We’re helping put out fence lines for grazing systems, water developments that can be tanks and troughs, converting power lines to solar panels so we don’t have the perching habitat for predators that may impact sage-grouse. There are a lot of different threats to sage-grouse in North Dakota and across their range, so we’re looking at those threats and trying to see how we can decrease the threats.

Wendy: Not only has the sage-grouse initiative been successful, but a lot of our other programs can tie right into it. They’re taking advantage of all the programs and putting together a package that will work for their operation and that might be GRP, it might be WHIP. We have many programs available that they can take the opportunity to check into and hopefully use in their operation.

Narrator: For more information about sage-grouse habitat and the sage-grouse special initiative, visit the Sage-Grouse Habitat Management webpage.


Last Modified: 11/30/2010