“We do it for the grouse.”

This week, the range techs and I worked with Jeff Mosley at MSU Extension conducting Daubenmire surveys in greater sage-grouse habitat. The study focused on plant species composition and insect populations (via pitfall traps and vacuuming) around pellet sites in a known summer ground. Over the course of three years, the project will compare grouse frequencies and food sources available at ungrazed and grazed sites. Jeff thinks that grazing and sage-grouse conservation are compatible, but wants to support this with further data. The team was great to work with and we quickly completed the transects with time to spare.

Horse Prairie. Can you spot the sage-grouse?

Horse Prairie. Can you spot the sage-grouse?

Prior to helping Dr. Mosely, I did a little research on grouse. I’ve spent the summer working at the BLM, who prioritizes the protection of grouse and its habitat over, well, most things. Many times I heard the phrase “sage-grouse preferred” used as justification for management decisions, including which species I chose to focus on for seed collections. Still, it was not clear to me why this species in particular warranted such attention.

The internet is a vast place. A quick google search of “greater sage-grouse” will yield a slew of articles and agency pages. Recently, the USDA released a plan to invest $211 million in sage grouse conservation over the next three years. With the goal of habitat conservation, a large portion of the money will go towards conservation easements, conifer removal, reducing wildfire and invasive grass threat, and protecting habitat from human disturbance and development, according to the USDA website.

Responses to this plan have been mixed, as one would expect. I am especially fond of reading the comments on articles and those on the Fox write-up delivered. Most commenters were outraged that such an enormous sum would be spent on birds, while others shared their land-grab theories, connected it to abortion legislation, and even left a recipe using sage-grouse. Emotions ran high due to the large amount of money involved.

The Pew Charitable Trust has an informative article that summarizes the decline of sage-grouse and its importance as an indicator species. There are ample articles circulating the web weighing in on the validity of listing grouse under the Endangered Species Act. The upcoming decision will have huge implications for the BLM because it manages about half of grouse habitat. Even if they are listed, however, they may still go extinct, as restoration attempts thus far have been mostly unsuccessful.

Dr. Mosely’s work is important to support evidence-based management decisions concerning greater sage grouse outside of special interest groups. Hopefully this type of information can be applied to policy in the context of what the overall end goal is: are we trying to bolster these populations back into the millions or merely delay their extinction? Is the first option even feasible?

Some relevant articles:

The USDA press release on the conservation strategy (Aug. 27, 2015) http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2015/08/0238.xml&contentidonly=true

“Feds plan to spend more than $200M to help protect sage grouse” FoxNews.com (Aug. 28,2015) *check out the comments section*  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/08/28/feds-plan-to-spend-more-than-200m-to-help-protect-sage-grouse/

“Press Release: Sage-Grouse report Points to Need for Balanced Land Management”  The Pew Charitable Trusts (April 24, 2015) http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/press-releases/2015/04/24/pew-sage-grouse-report-points-to-need-for-balanced-land-management

“Can Sage-Grouse Be Saved Without Shutting Down the West?”  Isabelle Groc, National Geographic (May 19, 2015) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150519-sage-grouse-endangered-species-west-washington-environment/

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