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Grouse and Grazing: Effects of Spring Grazing on Sage-Grouse Populations

The Challenge:

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) were once widespread within sagebrush-grassland ecosystems of western North America, but populations have declined since the mid-1960s. Sage-grouse were petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) concluded in 2015 that listing this species was not warranted, due in part to the comprehensive and unprecedented conservation measures that have been initiated to conserve the species and its habitat. The USFWS findings indicated that the major threats to sage-grouse are habitat loss and the lack of regulatory mechanisms to prevent loss and fragmentation of habitat.

Grazing is the most extensive land use within sage-grouse habitat, and the effects of spring livestock grazing on sage-grouse are often debated. Some people view livestock as a significant threat to sage-grouse. Others argue that spring livestock grazing may have a large-scale positive impact on sage-grouse because spring grazing may reduce fuel loads and result in fewer and smaller wildfires. No empirical data are available to assess either claim.

Our Response:

Rangeland Center members and collaborators have initiated a rigorous scientific research project to examine the effects of spring grazing on: 1) demographic traits of greater sage-grouse; and 2) sage-grouse habitat characteristics, fuel loads and wildfire behavior. The study commenced in 2012 and is expected to occur on 8 to 10 sites across Idaho over the next 10 years.

A team approach involves collaboration among a diverse set of individuals and organizations, including experts in sage-grouse ecology, grazing management, fire behavior, and rangeland ecology. Current team members include representatives from the University of Idaho, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Conservation League, and the Eastern Idaho and Jim Sage Grazing Associations.

Output & Outcomes:

Rangeland Center Members Involved:

  • Courtney Conway – Fish and Wildlife Sciences, Idaho Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit
  • Karen Launchbaugh – Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences 
  • Eva Strand – Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences

Partners & Sponsors:

  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • Idaho Department of Fish & Game
  • Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies
  • Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative
  • Idaho Cattle Association & the Public Lands Council
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Little Endowment (University of Idaho)
  • Eastern Idaho & Jim Sage Grazing Associations
  • Jim Sage Permittees
  • Browns Bench Permittees
  • Big Butte Permittees
  • Sheep Creek Permittees
  • Pahsimeroi Valley Permittees

Contact Us

Mailing Address:
UI Moscow
Natural Resources Bldg.
Room 205
875 Perimeter Dr. MS 1135
Moscow, ID 83844-1135
Phone: 208-885-6536  
Fax: 208-885-6564

Physical and Mailing Address: 
UI Boise
Idaho Water Center
Suite 210 
322 E Front St.
Boise, ID 83702
Phone: 208-364-3176