The article excerpted below by Marian Lyman Kirst appeared today in High Country News.
Read on to learn how Montana State University entomologist Hayes Goosey is studying “a mini-metropolis of arthropods” on five ranches in eastern Montana where the Sage Grouse Initiative works with landowners on grazing plans and conservation practices that are good for the grouse and good for livestock.
The bugs Goosey studies are the primary food source for sage grouse while they nest and raise young, and are part of the vital food chain that supports the vast sagebrush sea.
A Montana biologist studies how livestock influence a favorite sage grouse food source
In Montana, where sage grouse share nearly 100 percent of their core habitat with domestic livestock, grouse conservation efforts often focus on resting pastures for a year or more, or rotating livestock more quickly through them, in order to avoid overgrazing and ensure the vigorous return of grouse-concealing, forage-providing grasses and shrubs. Despite this, Goosey says, few people have looked into how grazing practices influence an equally vital component of sage grouse habitat: food arthropods. So, in 2012, he tackled the problem.
Goosey’s preliminary analysis suggests that rested pastures harbor significantly more food arthropods than grazed pastures, as well as taller vegetation, which shelters and feeds both the birds and their arthropod prey. That suggests that deferring grazing during the early brooding period may increase the number of chicks that survive to adulthood, he says.
Goosey feels his findings represent a refreshingly win-win situation. “Because (conservation) grazing is supposed to help decrease the percentage of bare ground,” he says, “and because bare ground means less forage for livestock and is also a detriment to food arthropods … what is good for grouse is good for cattle is good for bugs.”
“Sage grouse can coexist with grazing,” says Lorelle Berkeley, a research biologist with Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. But row crops wipe out the woody shrub that defines the bird’s habitat, and “it takes decades to grow back.”
Learn more about how reducing cropland cultivation conserves sage grouse.