Grouse Habitat Probe Of Native Grasses Spotlights Sagebrush

Researchers seek best home for almost-protected species.

Published on: Sep 12, 2013

That thin stand of old sagebrush on your ranch just could be the neatest, natural habitat around for those sage grouses.

"A lot of people often have the misconception that all sagebrush is a good sage grouse habitat, and in reality that's not always true," says Amanda Gearhart, a University of Idaho Extension rangeland specialist.

While sagebrush is a valuable habitat for the species that the U.S. Endangered Species Act considers a protection candidate, if the plant is too dense, around 40% cover, there isn't much else growing," she explains.

UI Extension is testing ways to thin sagebrush plants and discover whether younger, sparser plants can help restore populations of the western bird. The project received an $8,000 grant from the David Little Endowment for a sagebrush canopy reduction probe that will look into e o economic and biological impacts of sagebrush removal.

A wild sage grouse struts along on western lands, but concerns are running high that it needs federal protection.
A wild sage grouse struts along on western lands, but concerns are running high that it needs federal protection.

The team led by Gearhart includes John Hogge, a UI Extension educator, who says that the project site is at its peak age right now at the test site, about 25 years old, and not very productive.

Removing the sagebrush will allow younger sagebrush, native plants and forbs to grow, he explains, with a new habitat that he is optimistic will attract more birds.

"There are a lot of insects that are in the area when there are lots of grasses and forbs," he says. "Sage grouse need those during late brood rearing."

Sagebrush reduction could also provide more forage for livestock, he notes.

Not only does the project study the biological effects of sagebrush removal, but the costs associated with treatments in an effort to add an economic report to their findings.

"Some studies have started to look at these mechanical treatments, but most do not include the economic aspect," says Gearhart. For this reason, the team includes Neil Rimbey, a UI Extension range economist, who estimates costs of treatments.