If devastating wildfires are not stopped in the Great Basin area, the sage grouse population will be cut in half in just three decades, says study.
The chubby bird sage-grouse is facing an alarming population decline due to wildfires. If destructive wildfires are not stopped, the sage grouse population will be cut in half over the next three decades, a new report suggests. The ground-dwelling bird is among those 400 species that uses sagebrush steppe.
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“Wildfire has been identified as a primary disturbance leading to shifts in ecosystem state and concomitant declines in sagebrush steppe obligate species in the Great Basin,” study reads. “Nearly all species of sagebrush in the Great Basin are killed by wildfire and do not re-sprout. At the landscape level, wildfire frequency and magnitude have increased significantly subsequent to invasion of annual grasses.”
The report was documented after extensively analysing the effects of wildfires on the sage grouse population by studying the past 30 years of data up to 2013. Based on the 3 decades of projections of burn and recovery rates, the report predicts a steady and substantial long-term decline in the population of the birds across the Great Basin.
“Habitat degradation within the Great Basin ecoregion of the Intermountain West of North America is a contemporary example of how disturbance is driving rapid changes in ecosystem structure and function across enormous spatial scales.” report reads.
“From a population ecology perspective, greater sage-grouse are an umbrella or indicator species for the ecological health and integrity of sagebrush ecosystems.”
The report came just ahead of a court ordered deadline where it has to decided whether the sage grouse needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species is currently listed as a candidate for inclusion as an endangered species. By September 30, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is bound to make a decision.
Sage grouse are found across 11 Western states. According to stats, they are now estimated to be somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000. It is certainly a dramatic decline since once they have a population as high as 16 million.
One of the other main reasons of the sage-grouse's horrible decline is cheatergrass, a hearty, invasive grass that has grown wildly throughout the West. The grass catches fire easily and thousands of sage-grouse are burned along with it.
The study also indentifies many ways to avert sage-grouse and demands adequate steps to be taken by relevant authorities to prevent the bird from further decline.
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The study was published by U.S. Geological Survey on Thursday.