University of Idaho Rangeland Experts Release New Greater Sage-grouse Habitat Guidebook

Wednesday, June 2 2010

Written by Sue McMurray

MOSCOW, Idaho – A new guide to sage-grouse habitat written by University of Idaho rangeland ecology and management scientist Eva Strand and environmental science master’s degree candidate Jeffrey Gillan will help land owners and managers conserve Greater sage-grouse by identifying habitat conditions favorable to each part of the bird’s life cycle.

“Sage-grouse Habitat in Idaho: A Practical Guide for Land Owners and Managers,” contains 66 pages of color photographs and drawings and reflects the habitat guidelines that are included in Idaho’s 2006 Conservation Plan for Greater Sage-grouse. This plan now is being implemented by 12 local working groups that operate throughout southern Idaho.

The Greater sage-grouse now is a candidate for potential listing as “threatened” or “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act. Numbers of Greater sage-grouse have been declining in Idaho and across the western U.S.

As implied by the name, Greater sage-grouse depend on sagebrush-dominated landscapes for their forage, cover, nesting habitat and ultimate survival. The deterioration of sagebrush landscapes in the West has been a crucial factor in the decline of the Greater sage-grouse. Threats to its survival include fire and invasive grasses, energy development, rural residential development that encroaches on sagebrush landscapes and poorly managed grazing.

“Those who manage lands and live within sagebrush landscapes can play a significant role in conserving sage-grouse and the habitat they depend on,” note Gillan and Strand. “This book is just a small part of the larger commitment that is being made to conserve this species. We hope it will help ranchers and land managers better tailor their management actions to achieve desirable conditions for nesting and brood-rearing and survival through the winter months.”

Because livestock grazing is the major land use that occurs on sage-grouse habitat, the guidebook focuses on ranching as opposed to other land uses. The guidebook provides information to recognize and evaluate sage-grouse habitat, but does not recommend specific grazing or land management practices. The guidebook focuses on:
• Identification of sage grouse and “look-a-like” species;
• Reasons for concern across the range of the birds;
• The life cycle of the birds, including breeding, nesting, brood-rearing and late season survival;
• The importance of leks and lek behavior;
• Components of sage-grouse habitat, including sagebrush species as well as important grass and forb plants;
• Natural succession within sagebrush communities and impacts to habitat from fire and invasive species; and
• Sources of help for conservation planning and habitat management.

“The guidebook is a major step in the governor’s strategy for conserving this iconic species,” said Nate Fisher, Governor’s Office of Species Conservation administrator and one of the major sponsors of the guidebook. “Much of our important sage-grouse habitat is in the hands of ranchers. We believe ranching and sage-grouse management are very compatible, and this guidebook will help demonstrate that by helping ranchers understand the habitat conditions they need to achieve.”

In addition to the financial support of the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, the guidebook was produced in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Departments of Fish and Game and Agriculture, Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation also provided significant financial support for the project.

An electronic version of the guide is available online at A free print version may be obtained from any of the collaborating organizations. Free copies also may be ordered from University of Idaho Educational Communications Publications online at, by calling (208) 885-7982 or by e-mailing
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. The university is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit