Effects of rotational grazing management on nesting greater sage-grouse

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Grazing by domestic livestock is a ubiquitous land use in the sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) biome of western North America. Widespread, long‐term population declines in greater sage‐grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have elicited concern about potential negative effects of livestock management practices on sage‐grouse populations. We evaluated how recently implemented rotational grazing systems affected sage‐grouse nesting habitat quality as part of a large‐scale, replicated, natural experiment in central Montana, USA. We used Bayesian methods to assess support for effects of rotational grazing management and rest from grazing on daily survival rates of nearly 500 sage‐grouse nests monitored over 6 years, and mixed effects models to test for effects of rotational grazing and rest on vegetation structure. Though nests on rotationally grazed ranches displayed a trend toward greater daily survival rates, the evidence for an effect was weak. There was no evidence that rest from grazing (≥12 months) increased daily survival rates. Furthermore, rotational grazing systems and rest had negligible effects on herbaceous vegetation height and cover relative to other grazing strategies used in the study area. Results do not support the hypothesis that rotational grazing systems or rest from grazing increase nest success in the northern Great Plains. Estimated nest success, however, was comparable to range‐wide averages, suggesting concealing cover for nests is unlikely to be limiting growth of this population regardless of grazing strategy. In light of these results and recent research questioning reported relationships between grass height and nest survival, maximization of hiding cover may be overemphasized in grazing management guidelines and policies. Rather, our findings suggest a variety of locally appropriate grazing strategies focused on fundamental range health principles may provide adequate habitat quality for nesting sage‐grouse.

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