Private Lands Hold the Key to Sage Grouse Survival: Sage Grouse Initiative Science

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New sage grouse study reveals a strong link between wet sites (essential summer habitat for sage grouse to raise their broods) and sage grouse leks, and in turn, private lands.

Lush springs & meadows are important to sage grouse in summer

"The surprise was how much wet summer habitat controlled the distribution of grouse across the landscape and that so much of that habitat fell on private lands." ~Patrick Donnelly, principal investigator

The Sage Grouse Initiative released significant results from an extensive study in the West: Private Lands Vital to Conserving Wet Areas for Sage Grouse Summer Habitat. Sage grouse are a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, a decision slated for September, 2015. The decision will affect 11 western states and a range spanning 259,000 square miles (including a small part of Canada).

The findings show a strong link between wet sites (essential summer habitat for sage grouse to raise their broods) and sage grouse leks, and in turn, private lands. An impressive 85% of leks (breeding areas) cluster within six miles of wet summer habitats.

These streamsides, wet meadows, and wetlands compose less than 2% of the western landscape, yet more than 80% fall on private lands. That means that while the majority of sage grouse habitat falls on public lands, the private lands have a disproportionate importance.

The implication for conservation? Successful sage grouse conservation will hinge largely on cooperative conservation with private landowners, ranchers, and farmers to sustain these lush and vital summer habitats.

Credit for the research goes to primary investigator Patrick Donnelly, landscape ecologist with the Intermountain West Joint Venture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Coauthors are Dave Naugle, SGI science advisor; Jeremy Maestas, SGI technical lead; and Christian Hagen, Oregon State University.

Donnelly and team studied patterns of sage grouse leks and summer habitats over a 28-year period, from 1984 to 2011, using existing long-term databases, annual lek survey data collected by states, and Landsat satellite imagery. The study area covered more than 32 million acres of current sage grouse range in California, Oregon, and Northwestern Nevada. They examined the location and count data for 1,277 active lek sites.

The Sage Grouse Initiative article is part of its “Science to Solutions" series. The purpose of all SGI science is to increase the effectiveness of on-the-ground conservation for sage grouse.

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Deborah Richie, Communications Director

Dr. David Naugle, SGI Science Advisor, University of Montana

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