Wyoming Sage Grouse Conservation and Land Use

In 2010,  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife decided the greater sage grouse would be kept in consideration for placing on the endangered species list. They say the listing is “warranted,” but there are too many other endangered species needing attention at this time.

“Based on a  12-month status review pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish  & Wildlife Service determined that the listing of the species was warranted  but precluded by higher priorities.”1

“As a  result, the greater sage-grouse will be placed on the list of species that are  candidates for Endangered Species Act Protection. The Service will review the  status of the species annually, as it does with all candidate species, and will  propose the species for protection when funding and workload priorities for other listing actions allow” 2

Recently, a report was released outlining conservation strategies for the greater sage grouse.  There is a special consideration for the greater sage grouse of Wyoming in a draft umbrella conservation agreement called the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).

According to the announcement in the Federal Register, “The intent of the umbrella CCAA is to use voluntary, proactive conservation measures to reduce or remove threats to the greater sage-grouse, thereby potentially reducing the need to list the species. (Even though the initial press release is not stated this way-wyominglife) The draft umbrella CCAA covers an area of approximately 17 million acres of privately owned lands within the range of the greater sage-grouse in Wyoming.”3

In this voluntary agreement, private land owners are given options on how to improve sage grouse habitat with the goal of increasing numbers within the historical range of Wyoming sage grouse. The difficulty in achieving this is that sage grouse are deemed a  “landscape-scale” species, meaning they utilize different habitats seasonally as well as developmentally. (Juvenile sage grouse diets differ from adult male diets, etc.) Sage grouse move across various habitat types within the sage brush prairie. Wyoming contains some of the largest tracts of sage brush steppe, so we have a good chance of impacting this species’ numbers positively.

So, What is the Problem?

Some of the specific threats to the Greater Sage Grouse listed in the CCAA are:

    • habitat fragmentation
    • monocultures of non-natives
    • non-native invasive plant species
    • wildland fire can remove long-lived species such as sagebrush
    • sagebrush management
    • livestock, humans, and vehicle activity can physically disturb birds
    • application of insecticides can remove insects important to sage-grouse
    • concentrated or overabundant wildlife populations can harm plant communities
    • concentration of livestock may impact vegetation and soil structure

Obviously some of these threats are more easily managed than others. Some, like wildfires, are pretty much out of our control, although we may choose to ‘fight’ fires, or not. If you are unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding Wyoming’s Greater Sage Grouse conservation, I have relisted the mentioned threats and placed in parentheses common land use practices that could cause said threats. The conflict becomes apparent.

      • habitat fragmentation (oil and gas drilling, roads, housing developments)
      • monocultures of non-natives (farming)
      • non-native invasive plant species (a side effect of roads, farming, housing, animal movement, drilling …. )
      • wildland fire can remove long-lived species such as sagebrush
      • sagebrush management (ie removal with pesticides/mechanical/controlled burns in order to increase grasses for grazing or to reduce fire potential. A common practice for the last 5 or 6 decades)
      • livestock, humans, and vehicle activity can physically disturb birds (No comment necessary. People live here.)
      • application of insecticides can remove insects important to sage-grouse (Farming, although insecticides are not used at the levels common to the crops in the eastern part of the US. Towns spraying for mosquitos.)
      • concentrated or overabundant wildlife populations can harm plant communities (Big game management. Big game migration corridors.)
      • concentration of livestock may impact vegetation and soil structure (Ranching, one of the major industries in Wyoming)

1  http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/2013/03252013_COT.html

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/sagegrouse/

3 http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/sagegrouse/78FR9066.pdfhttp://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/sagegrouse/78FR9066.pdf

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One thought on “Wyoming Sage Grouse Conservation and Land Use

  1. I appreciate your thoughtful post on sage grouse. I studied them in grad school and monitor their populations and habitats today as an independent contractor. You portrayed the issue very well. It is complex to say the least.

    I would like to add one comment about wildfire. Wildfire is typically portrayed as an act of God, but I think that idea is mostly proliferated out of convenience. Almost everything we do in regard to land use, from prairies to forests, impacts the vegetation and likewise fuels for burning. The distribution and amount of fuels available impacts the frequency and intensity of fire. Human developments in rugged and fire prone ares increases the necessity of fire suppression.

    Fire suppression, from prairies to forests, leads to a loss of mosaic habitats, Mosaic habitats have varied plant species and ages. Sage-grouse and most other species benefit from mosaic habitats. Meanwhile, fuel loads are greatly increased, resulting in wildfires that do not act like historic wildfires and further reduce mosaic habitats in the opposite direction (all trees to no trees, all sage to no sage). From what I can tell, there is no way to turn the situation around on our huge rugged western landscapes without the application of prescribed fire on huge scales, targeted for weather conditions when fires burn at lower intensity or after the needles fall off of beetle kill trees. However, this is not happening for reasons are as complex as the varied as the issues you described surrounding sage-grouse conservation. Thanks again for the post.

    Jarren Kuipers – Land Steward Services LLC.

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