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New research on resilience of sagebrush ecosystems used for improving sage-grouse habitat

Date: September 09, 2015


Greater sage-grouse
Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)
Conservation efforts are underway across the western U.S. to reduce threats to Greater Sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystems on which they depend. The 2010 determination that sage-grouse warrant protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act has accelerated such work, including a multi-agency effort to provide a strategy for conserving sagebrush ecosystems and greater sage-grouse populations. The strategy, provided in a Rocky Mountain Research Station scientific report, focuses on mitigating the threats posed by invasive annual grasses and altered fire regimes (Chambers et al. 2014). In August 2014, the Bureau of Land Management issued guidance through an instructional memorandum (IM 2014-134) to its offices across California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah to begin implementing the report’s findings. 

Recent research shows that resilience to wildfire and resistance to invasive annual grass differs across sage-grouse habitat. Resilience and resistance of sagebrush ecosystems typically increase as environmental conditions become more favorable for plant growth and reproduction. Also, sage-grouse are more likely to be resilient if they exist in large populations across large landscapes that have continuous sagebrush cover.

Thus, the strategy is based on those factors that influence (1) sagebrush ecosystem resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive annual grasses, and (2) the distribution, relative abundance, and persistence of sage-grouse. A sage-grouse habitat matrix links relative resilience and resistance of sagebrush ecosystems with sage-grouse habitat requirements for landscape cover of sagebrush. The matrix is used to help decision makers assess risks and determine appropriate management strategies at large landscape scales. Focal areas for management are further defined by assessing sage-grouse Priority Areas for Conservation (PACs), breeding bird densities, and specific habitat threats. The report concludes with decision tools to help managers determine both the suitability of focal areas for treatment and the most appropriate management treatments. Emphasis is placed on fire operations, fuels management, post-fire rehabilitation, and habitat restoration activities.

Featured Publications

Chambers, Jeanne C. ; Pyke, David A. ; Maestas, Jeremy D. ; Pellant, Mike ; Boyd, Chad S. ; Campbell, Steven B. ; Espinosa, Shawn ; Havlina, Douglas W. ; Mayer, Kenneth E. ; Wuenschel, Amarina , 2014


Principal Investigators: 
External Partners: 
David A. Pyke, U.S. Geological Survey
Jeremy D. Maestas, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Mike Pellant, Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Steven B. Campbell, NRCS
Shawn Espinosa, Nevada Department of Wildlife
Douglas W. Havlina, BLM
Kenneth E. Mayer, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Amarina Wuenschel, Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative