Forest Service scientists conduct sage-grouse research and sagebrush ecosystem research to produce information useful to wildlife and land managers tasked with conserving the species and its habitat. Their research has three key focus areas:
- Sagebrush habitat restoration, post-wildfire and post-invasive species disturbance, including mechanisms for removal and replacement of cheatgrass with native species, and effectiveness monitoring of management actions.
- Current and future landscape analyses for conservation planning, including genetic sampling and connectivity of habitats and populations.
- Breeding and wintering ecology, habitat relationships, and effectiveness monitoring of management actions in response to energy development.
Sagebrush habitat restoration
Executive orders and agency policies and regulations encourage the use of native species, where feasible, to restore ecosystem structure, function and services on public lands. Forest Service scientists are transitioning from seeding monocultures to planting mixtures of shrubs, grasses, and forbs, which necessitates understanding of site preparation to control invasive species while retaining soil microbiota; biological soil crusts and residual native plants; plant-plant interactions; seeding and establishment requirements; and availability of equipment to meet these needs. They are conducting greenhouse, small plot, and operational scale research to address these issues. Collaborators include: seven western universities, two USDA Agricultural Research Service Laboratories, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Aberdeen Plant Materials Center; Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Geological Society; the Noble Foundation; and Truax Co.
The Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) is a regional experiment to evaluate methods for restoring sagebrush ecosystems that exhibit cheatgrass invasion and pinyon and juniper expansion in the Great Basin. Partners and collaborators include the Joint Fire Sciences Program, other federal agencies, western universities, public and private natural resource managers, tribal governments, and non-governmental organizations. Effectiveness monitoring is underway.
Forest Service scientists are valuating how fire, invasive species, and climate change affect sagebrush environments and testing what plant materials, land treatments and sagebrush adaptive traits are most useful for conserving and restoring sagebrush habitats of the Rockies, Great Basin, and Columbia Basin regions.
Forest Service scientists are studying genetic diversity and genecology of big sagebrush and associated plants to correlate adaptive traits with climatic variables and delineate seed zones. The research results will guide the choice of adapted populations for restoration of big sagebrush, and other shrubs, grasses and forbs in the Great Basin and interior Pacific Northwest and direct gene conservation efforts. The results can be used with climate change projections to deploy pooled seed sources including accessions that will pre-adapt vegetation to expected changes in climatic conditions. Results also can be used to map changes in suitable habitat into the future. Mapping permits identification of potential habitat fragmentation and potential bottlenecks to plant migration.
- Equipment and strategies to enhance the post-wildfire establishment and persistence of Great Basin native plants
- A collaborative program to provide native plant materials for the Great Basin
- Sagebrush steppe and pinyon-juniper ecosystems: effects of changing fire regimes, increased fuel loads, and invasive species
- The Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP)
- Effects of spring prescribed fire in expanding pinyon-juniper woodlands on seedling establishment of sagebrush species
Current and future landscape analyses for conservation planning
Forest Service scientists evaluated which factors are associated with extirpation or persistence of sage-grouse populations across the species' range. Key factors discriminating between extirpated and occupied ranges were the amount of sagebrush, elevation, distance to transmission lines, land ownership, and distance to cellular towers. This study is part of a monograph that serves as the foundation for the current evaluation of greater sage-grouse for listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The scientists evaluated effects of future scenarios of vegetation change on populations of greater sage-grouse. Scientists modeled sagebrush-steppe habitat with and without active and passive restoration. Under projections with no active management, widespread extirpation of sage-grouse was predicted; however, active restoration scenarios led to persistence of sage-grouse populations in much of their current range. Given the amount of sage-grouse habitat remaining, specific outcomes of available future habitat were projected for various restoration scenarios.
The scientists developed practical methods for identifying habitat threats in the sagebrush ecosystems of the Western U.S. The models projected sage-grouse habitat loss from cheatgrass invasion into native vegetation communities and juniper-woodland encroachment into sagebrush communities.
Identification of existing movement corridors among populations using non-invasive genetic sampling of sage-grouse to understand metapopulation structure and landscape genetic patterns is underway.
Breeding and wintering ecology, habitat relationships, and effectiveness monitoring of management actions in response to energy development.
Scientists are studying sage-grouse life history, including male and female behavioral ecology, demographics, habitat use patterns in core habitats in its range, and also in relation to wind energy development.
A new study in the Great Basin assessing sage-grouse habitat vulnerability to climate change and other stressors using climate and habitat modeling across large landscapes has recently been initiated.
Sage-grouse models for conservation assessments have been developed using information from areas where sage-grouse populations persisted versus where they were extirpated. The models can be used in conservation planning.
- Greater sage-grouse: general use and roost site occurrence with pellet counts as a measure of relative abundance
- Greater sage-grouse winter habitat use on the eastern edge of their range
- Nesting success and resource selection of Greater Sage-Grouse
- Resource selection during brood-rearing by Greater Sage-Grouse
- Nesting ecology of greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus at the eastern edge of their historic distribution
For more information, contact Deborah Finch.