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Predicting greater sage‐grouse habitat selection at the southern periphery of their range

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This study quantified seasonal second‐order habitat selection for sage‐grouse across the state of Utah to produce spatio‐temporal predictions of their distribution at the southern periphery of the species range. We used location data obtained from sage‐grouse marked with very‐high‐frequency radio‐transmitters and lek location data collected between 1998 and 2013 to quantify species habitat selection in relation to a suite of topographic, edaphic, climatic, and anthropogenic variables using random forest algorithms. Sage‐grouse selected for greater sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) cover, higher elevations, and gentler slopes and avoided lower precipitations and higher temperatures. The strength of responses to habitat variables varied across seasons. Anthropogenic variables previously reported as affecting their range‐wide distribution (i.e., roads, powerlines, communication towers, and agricultural development) were not ranked as top predictors at our focal scale. Other than strong selection for sagebrush cover, the responses we observed differed from what has been reported at the range‐wide scale. These differences likely reflect the unique climatic, geographic, and topographic context found in the southern peripheral area of the species distribution compared to range‐wide environmental gradients. Our results highlight the importance of considering appropriateness of scale when planning conservation actions for wide‐ranging species.

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Threatened and endangered species in shrub steppe

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Pygmy rabbits, greater sage grouse, songbirds, and Umtanum desert buckwheat…oh my! Learn how fire and land management can impact key threatened and endangered species and the top three things to take into consideration before taking action where these species call sage brush their home.

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Western Assoc of Fish and Wildlife Agencies: Mid-Winter Meeting

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The 2021 WAFWA mid-winter meeting will be held virtually.

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Annotated bibliography of scientific research on greater sage-grouse (2015-2019)

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The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter GRSG) has been a focus of scientific investigation and management action for the past two decades. The 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing determination of “not warranted” was in part due to a large-scale collaborative effort to develop strategies to conserve GRSG populations and their habitat and to reduce threats to both. New scientific information augments existing knowledge and can help inform updates or modifications to existing plans for managing GRSG and sagebrush ecosystems. However, the sheer number of scientific publications can be a challenge for managers tasked with evaluating and determining the need for potential updates to existing planning documents. To assist in this process, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has reviewed and summarized the scientific literature published since January 1, 2015. The first GRSG literature summary was published early in 2018. Here we provide an update to that document by adding summaries of articles published between January 6, 2018 and October 2, 2019.

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Wildfire and the ecological niche: Diminishing habitat suitability for an indicator species within semi‐arid ecosystems

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This study demonstrates a multistage modeling approach that integrates habitat selection and survival during the key nesting life‐stage of a bird species of high conservation concern, the greater sage‐grouse. We applied these spatially explicit models to a spatiotemporally robust dataset of sage‐grouse nest locations and fates across wildfire‐altered sagebrush ecosystems of the Great Basin ecoregion, western United States. Female sage‐grouse exhibited intricate habitat selection patterns that varied across regional gradients of ecological productivity among sagebrush communities, but often selected nest sites that disproportionately resulted in nest failure. For example, 23% of nests occurred in wildfire‐affected habitats characterized by reduced sagebrush cover and greater composition of invasive annual grasses. We found survival of nests was negatively associated with wildfire‐affected areas, but positively associated with higher elevations with increased ruggedness and overall shrub cover. Strong site fidelity likely drove sage‐grouse to continue nesting in habitats degraded by wildfire. Hence, increasing frequency and extent of wildfire may contribute disproportionately to reduced reproductive success by creating ecological traps that act as population sinks. Identifying such habitat mismatches between selection and survival facilitates deeper understanding of the mechanisms driving reduced geographic niche space and population decline at broad spatiotemporal scales, while guiding management actions to areas that would be most beneficial to the species.

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Post‐fire growth of seeded and planted big sagebrush – strategic designs for restoring greater sage‐grouse nesting habitat

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Wildfires change plant community structure and impact wildlife habitat and population dynamics. Recent wildfire‐induced losses of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) in North American shrublands are outpacing natural recovery and leading to substantial losses in habitat for sagebrush‐obligate species such as Greater Sage‐grouse. Managers are considering restoration strategies that include planting container‐grown sagebrush to improve establishment within areas using more conventional seeding methods. Although it is thought that planting sagebrush provides initial structural advantages over seeding, empirical comparisons of sagebrush growth are lacking between individuals established post‐fire using both methods. Using a Bayesian hierarchical approach, we evaluated sagebrush height and canopy area growth rates for plants established in 26 seeded and 20 planted locations within the Great Basin. We then related recovery rates to previously published nesting habitat requirements for sage‐grouse. Under average weather conditions, planted or seeded sagebrush will require 3 or 4 years, respectively, and a relatively high density (≥ 2 plants/m2) to achieve the minimum recommended canopy cover for sage‐grouse (15 %). Sagebrush grown in warmer and drier conditions met this cover goal months earlier. Although planted sagebrush reached heights to meet sage‐grouse nesting requirements (30 cm) one year earlier than seeded plants, seeded individuals were ~19 cm taller with 410 cm2 more canopy area than planted sagebrush after 8 years. However, big sagebrush establishment from seed is unreliable. Strategically planting small, high density patches of container‐grown sagebrush in historic sage‐grouse nesting habitat combined with lower density seedings in larger surrounding areas may accelerate sage‐grouse habitat restoration.

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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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The strange mating ritual of the sage-grouse

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They gobble up air, rub their wings across their chest feathers, and make a popping noise. It’s the mating call of the sage grouse – and the sound of dawn every spring in Oregon’s high desert. But sage grouse are in trouble across the West because humans keep carving up the desert for their own uses.

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New tools for pinyon-juniper management: Balancing needs of sagebrush and woodland obligate birds

Webinar recording.

Description: Management of expanding pinyon-juniper woodlands in sagebrush habitats has become a prominent strategy for sagebrush conservation, with spatially targeted tree removal efforts designed to benefit sage-grouse increasing over the past decade. This webinar will highlight recent literature on wildlife response to pinyon-juniper management across the West, and new science and tools for considering sagebrush- and woodland-obligate songbirds, like pinyon jay, in conifer management. Knowledge gained from wildlife studies will be put into context of emerging remote sensing analyses that provide a comprehensive picture of continued woodland change.

Presenters: Jason Tack, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Habitat and Population Evaluation Team, Missoula, MT; Jeremy Maestas, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, West National Technology Support Center, Portland, OR.

CE Credits: This webinar was approved by the Society for Ecological Restoration for 1 Continuing Education Credit (CEC).
To receive credit you’ll need to reference pre-approval code 16067645 and upload your webinar certificate (automatically emailed from Joint Fire Science Program JFSP following your attendance) at

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2020 Natural Areas Virtual Conference: Sierra to Sagebrush

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The 2020 Natural Areas Virtual Conference- Sierra to sagebrush: Integrating management and stewardship across landscapes will be an engaging virtual format that will allow us provide as much research, technique and practical application of science as you have come to expect at a Natural Areas Conference.

The 47th Natural Areas Conference is focused on the unique ecological and management dynamics that distinguish the Nevada-California borderlands, the Great Basin and Sierra mountains.  This conference is designed to bring together land and resource managers, scientists, and policy makers to share and discuss creative ideas that cross disciplines, ecosystems, and jurisdictional boundaries. These interactions are critical to solving landscape scale issues in the region.


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