New research shows that 86% of hens avoided nesting in sagebrush habitat invaded by conifers. Luckily, the studies also show that removing conifers in otherwise high-quality habitat is a boon to nesting sage grouse.
In recent years the Sage Grouse Initiative, led by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, has worked with many partners to accelerate the mechanical removal of invading conifer trees, primarily junipers, to restore sagebrush habitats in and around sage grouse strongholds across the West. Replicated studies from public and private land in southern Oregon and northwest Utah are the first to document sage grouse response to this type of landscape-level habitat restoration effort.
Despite conventional wisdom that female sage grouse use the same nesting areas every year, space-starved hens in Oregon were quick to use restored habitats made available by conifer removal: within four years, 29% of the tracked sage grouse were nesting within and near restored habitats. In Utah, 86% of hens avoided conifer invaded habitats, and those using restored habitats were more likely to raise a brood.
Removing invading conifers in otherwise high-quality habitat is a boon to nesting sage grouse, as in this landscape in the Warner Valley of southern Oregon. Before restoration, left, and after restoration, right. Photo Todd Forbes, BLM
These new studies demonstrate that landscape-level conifer removal can effectively increase habitat availability and boost success for nesting and brooding sage grouse. The birds know good nesting habitat when they see it, and this research demonstrates that collaborative sagebrush restoration can benefit sage grouse within a relatively short time.
This Science to Solutions report is based on peer-reviewed research to be published in Rangeland Ecology & Management, the journal for the Society for Range Management. Learn more about the special issue of REM that evaluates woodland expansion and conifer removal in sagebrush and prairie ecosystems.