Sage Grouse Habitat Structure

Riparian meadow grazed to point no habitat for sage grouse remains.|||| Riparian meadow grazed to point no habitat for sage grouse remains.|||| ||||

Sage Grouse numbers have been declining across its range for decades. A recent report by leading sage grouse biologists shows that populations declined by over half between 2007 and 2013. This occurred despite the efforts by Western states to avoid its listing under the Endangered Species Act. These states created numerous Working Groups composed of agencies, the public, ranchers and other extractive users. Unfortunately, their efforts have focused on “treating” sagebrush ecosystems by prescribed fire, removing sage brush, reseeding with native and non native species. Millions of dollars have been spent on these efforts. Voluntary, but meaningless, conservation agreements have been enacted with ranchers, but they continue grazing as usual, eliminating cover and food for sage grouse and their broods in upland and riparian areas. We have sent a letter to Idaho Fish and Game summarizing this problem and providing science-based recommendations for grazing management that would lead to the necessary cover and habitat for sage grouse. So far, the letter has not been circulated to all working groups. We were successful in getting it sent to one working group in SE Idaho. This makes it appear as if Idaho Fish and Game wishes to avoid troubling its working groups with the necessary science to address grazing, the third rail of politics here. If it is not further circulated, it will be more evidence of the need to list sage grouse and take the management out of state hands.

Dr. Carter is analyzing monitoring data from Duck Creek allotment in Rich County Utah, a test case on livestock grazing effects to upland and riparian communities with data collection ongoing since 2004. In fall 2017, Dr. Carter completed and published a paper in the journal 'Rangelands' based on this work that shows livestock grazing systems, water developments do not compensate for overstocking. Data shows continued degradation of both upland and riparian areas. In relation to sage grouse, we have been collecting data on habitat structure for six years to determine the effect of upland water developments and grazing systems on the required cover for sage grouse nesting and brood rearing. Published guidelines were used for comparison. Data to date indicates habitat requirements are not met, while in adjacent ungrazed areas, they are met. Data analysis is now proceeding with a report, paper and management recommendations to be issued.