Livestock Grazing Can Benefit Dwindling Population Of Sage Grouse

Posted: Mar 27 2017, 11:17pm CDT | by , Updated: Mar 27 2017, 11:26pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Livestock Grazing can Benefit Dwindling Population of Sage Grouse
A male Sage-grouse showing his feathers. Credit: Doug Ouren, USGS.

Grazing can have both positive and negative effects on Sage-grouse populations depending on its level and timing, say study

Livestock grazing is the most common land use within the habitat of sage-grouse but the effects of grazing on the population of this large bird are not properly understood. Some people consider livestock as a major threat to sage population while others argue that livestock grazing may have long-term positive effects on sage grouse as it can reduce the amount of find fuels and result in altering the spread and intensity of wildfires.

However, new research suggests that the effects of livestock grazing on greater sage-grouse populations can be both positive and negative depending on the timing and the level of grazing.

Sage grouse eats soft food such as sagebrush and herbaceous flowering plants. Since cattle also consume these same flowering plants, they can deprive sage grouse from their food when coexisted, thus, leading to the scarcity of food. If grazing occurs before the peak of plant production, it will reduce the amount of available food and cause a decline in sage population. But if grazing occurs later in the growing season it will corresponded with sage-grouse population increase.

The findings can help save sage-grouse and the recovery of its population before it perishes.

“Increasing our understanding of how the amount of grazing and season of livestock use affect vegetation could help inform short-term modifications to livestock management to benefit sage-grouse populations and help sustain western ranching operations.” Study co-author Cameron Aldridge, a Colorado State University professor and US Geological Survey collaborator said.

Sage grouse is the largest grouse in North America. Its historical range stretched from Alberta to New Mexico and to the Great Basin region of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. But the bird is no longer found in many of these areas.

The decline in sage population is often attributed to grazing inside its habitat, along with disease, oil and gas drilling and wildfires but there is no factual data available to assess the impact of grazing on sage grouse population.

In the latest effort, a combined team of researchers from multiple institutes analyzed grazing records from Bureau of Land Management allotments from 2002 to 2012 in rangelands across Wyoming involving more than 700 breeding sites and used them to determine the amount of livestock grazing and when it occurred. They found that livestock grazing was linked to sage-grouse population trends, both negatively and positively.

“This study breaks new grounds by evaluating, real-world livestock grazing operations across an entire state,” said USGS ecologist and study co-author David Pyke. “The study not only revealed the complex interactions among plant growth, when and how much livestock graze and the resulting effect on wildfire, but most importantly, it also provides hope for a way to help sustain ranching while simultaneously sustaining wildlife populations.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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