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Evaluating spatial coverage of the greater sage-grouse umbrella to conserve sagebrush-dependent species biodiversity within the Wyoming basins

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Biodiversity is threatened due to land-use change, overexploitation, pollution, and anthropogenic climate change, altering ecosystem functioning around the globe. Protecting areas rich in biodiversity is often difficult without fully understanding and mapping species’ ecological niche requirements. As a result, the umbrella species concept is often applied, whereby conservation of a surrogate species is used to indirectly protect species that occupy similar ecological communities. One such species is the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), which has been used as an umbrella to conserve other species within the sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystem. Sagebrush-steppe ecosystems within the United States have experienced drastic loss, fragmentation, and degradation of remaining habitat, threatening sagebrush-dependent fauna, resulting in west-wide conservation efforts to protect sage-grouse habitats, and presumably other sagebrush wildlife. We evaluated the effectiveness of the greater sage-grouse umbrella to conserve biodiversity using data-driven spatial occupancy and abundance models for seven sagebrush-dependent (obligate or associated) species across the greater Wyoming Basins Ecoregional Assessment (WBEA) area (345,300 km2) and assessed overlap with predicted sage-grouse occurrence. Predicted sage-grouse habitat from empirical models only partially (39–58%) captured habitats identified by predicted occurrence models for three sagebrush-obligate songbirds and 60% of biodiversity hotspots (richness of 4–6 species). Sage-grouse priority areas for conservation only captured 59% of model-predicted sage-grouse habitat, and only slightly fewer (56%) biodiversity hotspots. We suggest that the greater sage-grouse habitats may be partially effective as an umbrella for the conservation of sagebrush-dependent species within the sagebrush biome, and management actions aiming to conserve biodiversity should directly consider the explicit mapping of resource requirements for other taxonomic groups.

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Biennial Sage and Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse Workshop

Workshop website

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) will continue its 70-year tradition of holding a biennial workshop August 5 through August 8, 2024 in Wenatchee, Washington.

The workshop will provide an opportunity for scientists, managers, and students to share results of their latest research, activities related to management and conservation, and strategies for dealing with the many issues impacting sage- and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in western North America.

The workshop will be held at the Wenatchee Convention Center (WCC) in a setting that will provide a relaxed atmosphere, opportunities for activities, and unlimited potential for exchanging information. The event will be hosted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife with tremendous help from WAFWA.

The following is a tentative schedule:
August 5, 2024 (morning): Sage- and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Technical Team (Invitation only)
August 5, 2024 (afternoon): Rangewide Interagency Sagebrush Conservation Team (Invitation only)
August 5, 2024 (evening): Opening gathering at WCC
August 6, 2024 (all day): Research and management presentations at WCC (lunch provided)
August 6, 2024 (evening): Poster session and social at WCC
August 7, 2024 (all day): Field trip to see grouse habitat in Douglas County, Washington (lunch provided)
August 7, 2024 (evening): Banquet at WCC
August 8, 2024 (all day): Research and management presentations at WCC (lunch provided)

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Annotated bibliography of scientific research on greater sage-grouse published Oct 2019-July 2022

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The 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing determination of “not warranted” under the Endangered Species Act was in part a result of 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 USGS has reviewed and summarized the scientific literature published since January 1, 2015. Our most recent GRSG literature summary was published in 2020 (Carter and others, 2020) and included products published through October 2, 2019. Here, we consider products published between October 2, 2019, and July 21, 2022. We compiled and summarized peer-reviewed journal articles, data products, and formal technical reports (such as U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service General Technical Reports and USGS Open-File Reports) on greater sage-grouse. We first systematically searched three reference databases and three government databases using the search phrase “greater sage-grouse.” We refined the initial list of products by removing (1) duplicates, (2) publications not published as research, data products, or scientific review articles in peer-reviewed journals or as formal technical reports, and (3) products for which greater sage-grouse was not a research focus or the study did not present new data or findings about greater sage-grouse. We summarized each product using a consistent structure (background, objectives, methods, location, findings, and implications) and identified management topics addressed by each product; for example, species and population characteristics. We also identified projects that provided new geospatial data. The review process for this annotated bibliography included two initial internal colleague reviews of each summary, requesting input on each summary from an author of the original publication, and formal peer review. Our initial searches resulted in 221 total products, of which 147 met our criteria for inclusion. Across products summarized in the annotated bibliography, broad-scale habitat characteristics, behavior or demographics, site-scale habitat characteristics, habitat selection, and population estimates or targets were the most commonly addressed management topics. The online version of this bibliography, which will be available on the Science for Resource Managers tool (, will be searchable by topic, location, and year, and will include links to each original publication. The studies compiled and summarized here may inform planning and management actions that seek to maintain and restore sagebrush landscapes and GRSG populations across the GRSG range.

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Outcomes of spatial targeting in sagebrush country via the Sage Grouse Initiative

Webinar recording.

The sagebrush biome is one of the largest habitat types in North America, spanning 175 million acres and home to sage grouse and 350 other species. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010 to deliver win-win voluntary conservation solutions that support ranchers and other landowners in improving the productivity of their working lands while benefiting sage grouse. The Initiative has successfully addressed key threats impacting sage grouse by focusing on population core areas. Science has helped strategically guide, refine, and inform these voluntary, private lands conservation efforts across 11 western states.

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8th Annual SageCon Summit

Summit webpage.

The summit will be in Lakeview, OR on Sept. 26-27, 2023. There will be in-person and virtual options.


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Using neutral landscape models to evaluate the umbrella species concept for greater sage-grouse in an ecotone

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Three species (western meadowlark Sturnella neglecta, loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus, and lark bunting Calamospiza melanocorys) had greater overlap than expected with at least one type of greater sage-grouse habitat, while western kingbirds (Tyrannus verticalis) indicated avoidance of all sage-grouse habitat assessed.

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Optimizing targeting of pinyon-juniper management for sagebrush birds of conservation concern while avoiding imperiled pinyon jay

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We find that the inclusion of sagebrush-obligates expands the model-selected area of consideration for conifer management, likely because habitat overlap between sagebrush-obligates is imperfect. The inclusion of pinyon jay, a woodland-obligate, resulted in substantial shifts in the distribution of model-selected priority areas for conifer removal, particularly away from pinyon jay strongholds in Nevada and east-central California. Finally, we compared the conifer optimizations created here with estimates of ongoing conifer removal efforts across the intermountain west and find that a small proportion (13−18%) of management efforts had occurred on areas predicted as being important for pinyon jay, suggesting that much of the ongoing work is already successfully avoiding critical pinyon jay habitat areas.

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Regional context for balancing sagebrush- and woodland-dependent songbird needs with targeted pinyon-juniper management

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Our findings demonstrate that targeted sage grouse habitat restoration under SGI was not at odds with protection of pinyon jay populations. Rather, conifer management has largely occurred among northern sagebrush landscapes where models suggest that past cuts likely benefit Brewer’s sparrow and sage thrasher while avoiding pinyon jay habitats.



Harnessing genomics to examine local adaptation in sage-grouse

Webinar starts at 11 Pacific/12 Mtn.

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Spatial scale selection for informing species (greater sage-grouse) conservation in a changing landscape.

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We demonstrate the application of a scale selection approach that jointly estimates the scale of effect and the effect of sagebrush cover on trends in population size using counts from 584 sage-grouse leks in southwestern Wyoming (2003–2019) and annual estimates of sagebrush cover from a remote sensing product. From this approach, we estimated a positive effect of mean sagebrush cover with a 95% probability that the scale of effect occurred within 5.02 km of leks. In an average year, we found that lower levels of sagebrush cover within these estimated scales could support increasing trends in sage-grouse population size when populations were small, but higher levels of sagebrush cover were needed to sustain growing populations when populations were larger. With standardized monitoring and annual estimates of vegetation from remote sensing, this scale selection approach can be applied to identify relevant scales for other populations, species, and biological responses such as demography and movement.

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