New Studies Indicate Protected Areas Needed to Conserve Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse by Alan Wilson

(Washington, D.C., July 23, 2013) A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other peer-reviewed research published this spring indicate that conserving Greater Sage-Grouse will require both protecting large areas of habitat and making significant changes in land mana gement to reverse population declines of this wide-ranging species. Federal agencies are currently engaged in an unprecedented, West-wide planning process to conserve and restore the species.

“We appreciate the Obama Administration taking on this unprecedented conservation initiative and the tremendous opportunity it offers to create a lasting legacy of protected western landscapes and sustainable management,” said Matthew Kirby of Sierra Club. “The best available science indicates that without the creation of protected areas, grouse populations will continue to decline.”

The new USGS study (Manier et al. 2013), which was commissioned by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), indicated that preserving large, relatively undisturbed expanses of sagebrush habitat will be important to sage-grouse conservation. The same USGS study assessed threats to priority conservation areas and found that a significant percentage of these areas have already been degraded, and that most of these areas are already affected by multiple stressors that will continue to impact sensitive sage-grouse.

“It remains to be seen how federal planners ensure that large expanses of intact sagebrush habitat will be protected to secure and recover sage-grouse populations, as the USGS report would advise,” said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. “We are concerned that the first draft plans released as part of the planning process will be inadequate to prevent further declines in sage-grouse populations.”

A study by Copeland et al. (2013) assessing the Wyoming “core area” conservation strategy, which some BLM plans have also adopted, predicted that conservation measures it recommends will reduce the sage-grouse's population decline, but will not stabilize grouse numbers or provide for the species' recovery. Another study by Knick et al. (2013) found that sage-grouse appear to need greater protection than provided by the Wyoming core area strategy.

“Sage-grouse are a landscape species, and they need large, protected landscapes to survive,” said Mark Salvo of Defenders of Wildlife. “The federal planning effort is off to a shaky start, but incorporating findings from this new research will help steer the process back on course.”

New Research Relevant to Sage-Grouse Conservation

Knick, S. T., S. E. Hanser, K. L. Preston. 2013. 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, available here. [Editor's note: document no longer available]

Copeland, H. E., A. Pocewicz, D. E. Naugle, T. Griffiths, D. Keinath, J. Evans, J. Platt. 2013. Measuring the effectiveness of conservation: a novel framework to quantify the benefits of sage-grouse conservation policy and easements in Wyoming. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67261. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067261. Available here.

Manier, D. J., D. J. A. Wood, Z. H. Bowen, R. M. Donovan, M. J. Holloran, L. M. Juliusson, K. S. Mayne, S. J. Oyler-McCance, F. R. Quamen, D. J. Saher, A. J. Titolo. 2013. Summary of science, activities, programs, and policies that influence the rangewide conservation of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). U.S. Geological Survey, Open-File Report 2013–1098; available here.

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