Ecosystems - Greater Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush Steppe

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Habitat Management

Identification and implementation of effective management practices to maintain or improve sagebrush steppe habitat conditions depends on understanding the components of healthy sagebrush ecosystems and those methods and environmental conditions that facilitate success. USGS scientists are researching factors that contribute to successful establishment of big sagebrush, using remote sensing to characterize conditions of sagebrush vegetation cross the West, and many other projects to help inform future management of the sagebrush steppe.

SageSuccess Project:  Sagebrush restoration for sage-grouse habitat needs

The SageSuccess Project is a joint effort between USGS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to examine the factors that contribute to establishment of big sagebrush across the range of the sage-grouse, and whether seeding and planting sagebrush ultimately creates high quality sage-grouse habitat. The project will examine seedings and plantings completed between 1990 and 2013 and assess factors including seed source, climate, soils, soil moisture, fire history, land use, and treatment implementation method. Researchers will identify and compare the subspecies of seed provided to BLM to the native/requested subspecies using genetic and chemical signatures. Where seed sources are known, the contribution of seed transfer across geographic, elevation, and climate zones to seeding outcomes will be assessed. This research will inform site-level management activities and explore new practices or improvements of existing methods to restore sagebrush. 

For Additional Information

David Pilliod
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
dpilliod@usgs.gov
208-426-5202

Post-fire Seeding Success Driven by Moisture and Seed Drills

Wildfires burn approximately one million acres in the Great Basin each year. The BLM implements Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) seeding treatments following fires to meet several objectives, such as increasing perennial plant cover and reducing invasive, non-native annuals. USGS and USFS collaborators studied vegetation composition 8-21 years after seeding treatments to determine long-term effects on different types of vegetation cover and habitat suitability for sage-grouse. Areas where ESR seedings provided an increase in perennial grass cover and a decrease in cheatgrass were primarily limited to locations drill-seeded with non-native grasses at moist, high elevation sites. Findings may inform adaptive management decisions about the benefits of focusing treatments at higher elevations where success is more likely.

For Additional Information

Publications

David Pyke
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
david_a_pyke@usgs.gov
541-750-0989

Long-term effects of seeding after wildfire on vegetation in Great Basin shrubland ecosystems

Journal of Applied Ecology, 2014

Quantifying restoration effectiveness using multi-scale habitat models- implications for sage-grouse in the Great Basin

Ecosphere, 2014

How Sagebrush Seed Source Affects Restoration Success

Photo of burning sagebrushBig sagebrush provides important habitat for Greater Sage-grouse and other wildlife. An increasing number of large wildfires threaten the distribution of big sagebrush. Because big sagebrush cannot re-sprout after a burn, and natural seedling establishment is limited, land managers have made efforts to recolonize big sagebrush by aerial or drill seeding burned areas. A new study in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho will examine how seeds from different climates and different genetic characteristics grow in variable climates. Scientists will also explore how different sagebrush seeds cope with traditional treatments, such as using herbicides or mowing to control competing vegetation. Results from this study will be useful to restoration managers interested in maximizing big sagebrush seedling establishment after wildfire, especially in the face of climate variability.

For Additional Information

Matthew Germino
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
mgermino@usgs.gov
208-426-3353

Sagebrush Management in Light of Sage-Grouse, Fire, and Invasive Species

 Researchers from USGS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) have produced a tool to help management agencies prioritize regional-scale management actions while maximizing conservation effectiveness. A strategic approach was developed for conservation of sagebrush ecosystems and sage-grouse that focuses specifically on habitat threats caused by invasive annual grasses and altered fire regimes. The tool uses information on 1) factors that influence sagebrush ecosystem resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive annual grasses and 2) the distribution, relative abundance, and persistence of sage-grouse populations to help develop management strategies at both landscape and site scales.

For Additional Information

Publications

David Pyke
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
david_a_pyke@usgs.gov
541-750-0989

Using resistance and resilience concepts to reduce impacts of annual grasses and altered fire regimes on the sagebrush ecosystem and sage-grouse: A strategic multi-scale approach:

USFS General Technical Report, 2014

Response of Shrubland Birds to Prescribed-Fire Treatments to Enhance Sagebrush Communities in Areas of Juniper Woodland Expansion

 Prescribed fire is commonly used to reduce the cover of pinyon or juniper and benefit birds, particularly sage-grouse that depend on sagebrush habitats. USGS studied yearly changes in the bird community after prescribed fire to measure how birds use the new vegetative structure and to evaluate if the bird community responds as expected. Initial results (five to seven years post-treatment) suggest that prescribed fire, as currently conducted in established woodland communities, is relatively ineffective in creating habitat for sagebrush-obligate birds. In addition, fires reduced existing sagebrush cover, which will further delay establishing a desired sagebrush bird community. In contrast, mechanical treatments that removed all tree cover at locations adjacent to existing sagebrush landscape were effective in restoring sagebrush bird communities.

For Additional Information

Publications

Steve Knick
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
steve_knick@usgs.gov
208-426-5210

Ecological scale of bird community response to pinyon-juniper removal

Range Ecology and Management, 2014

Landscape Influence on Gene Flow in Greater Sage-Grouse: Conservation Actions through Cores and Corridors

USGS and collaborators are using genetic information contained in sage-grouse feathers collected at leks to delineate the range-wide network of breeding populations. The genetic data are being analyzed in combination with landscape information to identify geographic distance, topographic features, anthropogenic land uses, and other factors that influence sage-grouse dispersal and genetic exchange. Feathers collected at leks across the sage-grouse range from 2012 through 2014 currently are being processed at labs in Ft. Collins and Missoula. The results from this study, perhaps the largest terrestrial effort of its kind, will be important for conservation planning to delineate core or priority populations, and to reduce population fragmentation, isolation, and risk of extirpation.

For Additional Information

Steve Knick
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
steve_knick@usgs.gov
208-426-5210

Sara Oyler-McCance
USGS Fort Collins Science Center
sara_oyler-mccance@usgs.gov
970-226-9197

Remote Sensing Characterization and Monitoring of Shrubland Components in the Western U.S.

Predicted changes in sage-grouse nesting habitat, 2006-2050 from select climate scenarioUSGS in collaboration with BLM is producing a remote sensing-based quantification of western U.S. shrub lands. This work provides a 30 meter per-pixel canopy cover estimate of shrubland components of all shrub, sagebrush, herbaceous, annual herbaceous, litter, bare ground and shrub height. Research has shown this approach will enable more successful monitoring.  Products were developed in 2013 for Southwest Idaho, Southeast Oregon, Northwest Nevada and Northeast California. In late 2014 products will be available for the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and southern Idaho, with other areas planned for subsequent years. Products will be integrated into the National Land Cover Database for future updating and monitoring.

For Additional Information

Publications

Collin Homer
USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center
homer@usgs.gov
208-426-5213

Characterization of shrubland ecosystem components as continuous fields in the northwest United States

Ecological Indicators, 2015

 

Maps & Models

Modeling Ecological Minimum Requirements for Greater Sage-Grouse: Implications for Population Connectivity across Their Western U.S. Range

USGS in collaboration with university partners has mapped habitats based on a novel statistical approach that identified regions containing the minimum environmental characteristics required by sage-grouse. First, suitable environments were mapped for the western half of the sage-grouse range. Then the measure of habitat suitability was converted into a map of predictive corridors for delineating connections among populations. Scientists documented that sage-grouse required sagebrush-dominated landscapes containing minimal levels of human development. They also concluded that large sage-grouse populations within the interior of the sage-grouse range were highly interconnected while smaller populations along the range periphery often had limited connectivity based on movement potential.

For Additional Information

Steve Knick
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
steve_knick@usgs.gov
208-426-5210

Publication

Modeling ecological minimum requirements for distribution of greater sage-grouse leks: Implications for population connectivity across their western range, U.S.A

Ecology and Evolution, 2013

State-Wide Mapping of Greater Sage-grouse Habitat

The USGS and partners across multiple western states are studying the cumulative impacts of expanding human activities across these landscapes. By combining landcover information with other data on sage-grouse movement patterns, life history and reproductive ecology, and habitat preferences, researchers can create maps to assist in forecasting the interaction of proposed land-use activities to the sagebrush ecosystem. This information will increase understanding of the distribution and dynamics of habitat conditions across the landscape, and the relationship between habitat conditions and dynamics of wildlife populations. Maps may help predict where fragmentation of sage-grouse movement corridors and breeding grounds might occur and assess the relationships between land-use and native and invasive species.

For Additional Information

Wyoming:
Daniel Manier
USGS Fort Collins Science Center
manierd@usgs.gov
970-226-9466

Nevada:
Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073

Publication:

Spatially explicit modeling of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat in Nevada and northeastern California—A decision-support tool for management

USGS Open-File Report 2014-1163, 2014

 

 

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