Author Archives: Hannah Ryan

SGI’s new coordinator brings extensive experience and a history of success sage grouse and sagebrush conservation.

Meet Thad Heater, SGI’s New Coordinator

The SGI Team is happy to announce the recent selection of Thad Heater as SGI’s new permanent coordinator. Thad brings extensive experience and a history of success working to conserve natural resources throughout the West.

Thad understands ranching first hand from his upbringing on a working on a cattle ranch in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon. His diverse resume also includes a decade of service at the US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and another seven years’ in the private sector and Nevada Department of Wildlife. Thad joined NRCS in 2009 as a shared biologist in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Intermountain West Joint Venture eventually transferring to the state biologist position. He has been the SGI state lead in Nevada since the initial roll out of SGI in 2010 and has been very active in sage grouse conservation at the state and local level where he served on a variety technical teams. His work had been instrumental in making SGI and NRCS easement programs a success in Nevada by protecting key sage grouse habitat in the Bi-State and Greater Sage grouse populations.

Thad officially will start his new role on January 24th. Tim Griffiths continues to also be highly involved SGI leadership in his position as the NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife, Western Coordinator.

Welcome, Thad!

Find contact information for Thad and other SGI team members here.

Sage grouse depend on a delicate balance of sagebrush habitats.

Grazing and Sagebrush Treatments: A 25-year Case Study in Utah

Download this Science to Solutions article here.

The newest report in SGI’s Science to Solutions series is based on findings from a 25-year case study on a ranch in Utah. The study shows that sustainable grazing practices and sagebrush treatments enhanced herbaceous understory for sage grouse in years with average winters, but that bird populations declined following severe winters.

These findings from Utah can help conservationists working to achieve self-sustaining sagebrush ecosystems capable of supporting sage grouse and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife. While sagebrush manipulation can be an important component of sage-steppe restoration, this report illustrates the delicate balance needed when conducting sagebrush treatments in sage grouse habitat.

A male sage grouse rests on a lek on the Deseret Land and Livestock Company ranch. Photo by Todd Black.

Download this Science to Solutions to learn about:

  • How long-term monitoring provides a unique perspective;
  • Grazing management and sagebrush treatments on the Deseret Land and Livestock ranch;
  • The sage grouse’s response;
  • And how sagebrush treatment requires a delicate balance.

Learn more by downloading the full PDF here, or by clicking on the image below.

Grazing and Sagebrush Treatments: A 25-year Case Study in Utah

SGI Featured Friend | Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative

Download a PDF of this story on the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative.

Read more of our Featured Friend posts here.

“The Watershed Restoration Initiative partnership enables true landscape level management with no hard lines between federal, private and state lands.” – Paul Briggs

Dynamic Partnership Restores 1.2 Million Acres of Wildlife Habitat

In Utah, as well as states across the West, conifers are marching into sage-steppe habitats and choking out wildlife communities. Due to past suppression of naturally occurring wildfires, these trees are taking hold in places where they never used to grow, pushing out sage grouse that don’t tolerate them. This habitat change is one of the primary factors erasing the bird’s habitat range-wide. But in Utah, a dynamic partnership is making colossal strides to cut back the trees for sage grouse, mule deer, elk, songbirds, and many other sagebrush-dependent critters.

There are 122 partners enacting landscape-scale conservation projects with the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (WRI). Since its inception, WRI partners, including the Sage Grouse Initiative, have treated over 1.2 million acres, leveraging over $160 million to complete 1,400 conservation projects. This includes over 400,000 acres of conifer-encroached sage-steppe that are now restored to healthy and productive sage grouse habitat.

These Utah sage grouse are using a WRI project area.

These sage grouse are using a WRI project area that was recently cleared of conifers. Photo courtesy of the BLM.

Meet the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative

The WRI restores and improves watershed health in priority areas throughout Utah. It enhances and protects present and future quality of life, improves water quality and quantity, reduces catastrophic wildfires, restores watersheds following wildfires, and increases wildlife habitat and forage alongside sustainable agriculture. This initiative is the definition of a collaborative bottom-up organization. Its projects are reviewed by partners and ranked by regional teams, and then funded from a variety of sources.

Seeding these native plants helped halt the Black Mountain fire in Utah.

The 2002 Maple Springs fire was treated by WRI to seed native plants. These plants helped halt the 2013 Black Mountain fire. Photo courtesy of the BLM.

Role With Sage Grouse Initiative

With sage grouse as a focal species, WRI’s natural partner is the Sage Grouse Initiative. One example of WRI’s significant collaborations for sage grouse habitat was on the Milford Flat Fire, the largest wildfire recorded in Utah’s history. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Fuels Management Specialist Paul Briggs said this fire kicked off a vast partnership by requiring an “all hands- all lands” response. “If it hadn’t been for the WRI and the partners, we could not have addressed the immense scale of this fire and other large fires in southern Utah.” WRI provided the BLM with native plant seed, as well as field support to remove conifers in places that did not burn completely or were too steep and rocky for drill seeding.

WRI is a crucial player in landscape conservation due to their expertise at leveraging funding among many partners and maximizing limited resources to restore the largest amount of acres. They are a shining example of an SGI Featured Friend because they work successfully in the highest priority areas to create resilient western landscapes for sage grouse and other species.


Alan Clark, WRI Watershed Program Director

Phone: 801.244.4366

Find out more at:

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Webinar: Grazing Strategies for Riparian and Wet Meadow Improvement in the Sagebrush Steppe

SGI sponsored event webinar logoWhen: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 | 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. PST

Click here for On Demand Webinar Replay!

Host: NRCS West National Technology Support Center

Presenter: Sandy Wyman, Rangeland Management Specialist, BLM National Riparian Service Team (NRST), Prineville, Oregon.

Description: This webinar will review key principles of grazing management in riparian and meadow areas, and how to manage grazing to initiate improvement of ecological function. Participants will gain an understanding of common grazing strategies and typical vegetation response during each season. This presentation will also showcase examples from around the sage-steppe of successful improvements to riparian and wet meadow areas after adjustments in grazing management, with the understanding that there is not one practice or strategy that will work for every management scenario.

Additional Resources:

Click here for handouts and more details on this webinar.


Assessing Impacts of Fire on Runoff and Erosion

Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 11: Assessing Impacts of Fire and Post-fire Mitigation on Runoff and Erosion from Rangelands

By: Frederick B. Pierson, C. Jason Williams and Peter R. Robichaud


Wildfires are a natural component of rangeland ecosystems, but fires can pose hydrologic hazards for ecological resourc­es, infrastructure, property, and human life. This fact sheet provides an overview of the hydrologic impacts of fire on infiltration, runoff, and soil erosion. Fire primarily alters hydrology and erosion processes by consuming the protective ground cover and organic matter. The exposed bare soil becomes susceptible to increased water runoff, which detaches and transports sediment. Read on to learn the effectiveness of various mitigation treatments for reducing runoff and erosion in the years following a fire.

In Brief:

  • Amplified runoff and erosion responses are most likely where fire increases bare ground to 50 to 60 percent and slopes exceed 15 percent. Extensive bare ground promotes accumulation of runoff and formation of high velocity concentrated flow, capable of entraining and transporting a high sediment load.
  • Runoff and erosion responses are likely enhanced on steep slopes and under high rainfall intensity. Rainfall intensity and bare ground are strong predictors of post-fire responses. The hydrologic and erosion recovery period for rangelands will vary with precipitation and ground cover in the years following burning and is influenced by ecological site and pre-fire conditions.
  • Risk assessment tools are available to assist in evaluation of post-fire conditions and their effects on runoff and erosion.
  • Effectiveness of post-fire stabilization treatments depends on magnitude, intensity, and duration of the rainfall events following fire; ability of the treatment to increase surface cover or trap sediment; persistence of the treatment; and interaction of the treatment with vegetation and ground cover re-establishment.

 Click here or on the image below to download a PDF of the full fact sheet.

Hydrology banner

Seeding Big Sagebrush Successfully on Intermountain Rangelands

Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 10: Seeding Big Sagebrush Successfully on Intermountain Rangelands

By: Susan E. Meyer and Thomas W. Warren


Recently, devastating wildfires–in part a consequence of annual grass invasion–have impacted a sizable portion of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, especially in the Great Basin. This fact sheet discusses some of the many factors that can increase the likelihood of successfully re-establishing sagebrush post-wildfire using direct seeding. For instance, poor weather for sagebrush seed establishment, seed subspecies selection, or the timing of seeding can render even the most artful efforts ineffective. In addition, climate change can add a new and challenging dimension to the problem of sagebrush restoration. Read on to learn how to maximize seeding success in burned areas.

In Brief:

  • Big sagebrush can be seeded successfully on climatically suitable sites in the Great Basin using the proper seeding guidelines.
  • These guidelines include using sufficient quantities of high-quality seed of the correct subspecies and ecotype, seeding in late fall to mid-winter, making sure that the seed is not planted too deeply, and seeding into an environment with reduced competition.
  • Reducing the seeding rates of highly competitive grasses will increase the chances of sagebrush establishment.
  • Aerial seeding the first winter after a burn following drilling of larger-seeded species at reasonable rates is one approach for large-scale, post-fire restoration projects that has been successful.

Click here or on the image below to download a PDF of the full fact sheet.

Seeding big sagebrush

Meet Jason, Our New Research Associate Who Helps Track Conservation Results

SGI’s newest research associate will measure the biological outcomes of collaborative sage grouse conservation work. Photo by John Carlson.

The Sage Grouse Initiative is dedicated to working with diverse groups to put in place voluntary, high-quality habitat conservation projects across the West’s sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. We’re also committed to making sure those projects result in measurable improvements for sage grouse, and the hundreds of species that depend upon an intact sagebrush sea.

We are thrilled to announce the newest member of our team, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Habitat and Population Evaluation Team in partnership with SGI and IWJV.   Jason will be providing the science-based tools fundamental to SGI’s collaborative conservation model, while measuring the biological outcomes of work on the ground. His work focuses on learning about the role that mesic resources play in wildlife populations across the West.

Jason studied a unique population of sage grouse found in the northeastern edge of the bird’s range: Valley County, Montana and Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada. As part of his Master’s work at the University of Montana, he documented the largest migration event of sage grouse, which is sustained by large, intact sagebrush rangelands. Jason went on to receive his PhD from Colorado State University, where he developed spatial planning tools for golden eagles. These tools provide a framework for siting future wind energy developments in areas predicted to have the least impact on eagle populations.

Jason is looking forward to playing a role in the continued success of SGI by measuring the biological outcomes of our collaborative work on the ground. His research will focus on the critical role of mesic (wetland) resources for sustaining healthy wildlife populations, as well as developing tools to monitor songbirds. The goal of his research is to better understand how SGI can best benefit multiple species under the umbrella of sage grouse conservation.

Find contact information for Jason and other SGI team members here.

Field Staff Continue to Make a Big Difference for Wildlife and People

Read the new SGI Quarterly Report: July-September 2015

Each quarter, the Sage Grouse Initiative reports the latest accomplishments from our on-the-ground partner positions in the field, along with our science and communications efforts.  The Intermountain West Joint Venture takes the lead in coordinating SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team, and leverages funds to ensure this is a lasting conservation partnership with tangible results.

Our Action Team is comprised of dozens of hard-working field staff who work with landowners to put in place proactive habitat conservation and restoration projects that benefit sage grouse–and hundreds of other sagebrush-dependent wildlife species–in 11 western states. The results of their combined efforts continue to create win-wins for wildlife and working lands. The latest achievements of SGI partner staff include:

>> 2,190,662 acres of rangeland improvement to increase sage grouse hiding cover during nesting season. Additional grass cover is expected to increase sage grouse populations by eight to ten percent.

>> 286,033 acres of conifer removal in key nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering habitats. Removing encroaching conifers from sagebrush rangelands eliminates tall structures to create more suitable habitat for birds to re-colonize their former range.

>> 193 miles of high-risk fence removed or marked near sage grouse mating leks. Marking fences is expected to reduce sage grouse fence collisions by 83%.

More highlights from SGI’s work over the last quarter include:

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service announced on September 22 that voluntary sage grouse partnerships have significantly reduced threats to the Greater sage-grouse, and the birds do not warrant protection under the ESA. This collaborative, science-based strategy is the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history!

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a renewed commitment to conservation efforts to bring back sage grouse populations in a new report titled the Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 Investment Strategy, FY 2015-2018.

  • The SGI SWAT met in Minden, Nevada, this year for their annual conservation workshop. The focus of the meeting was implementing multi-stakeholder collaboration on a large-landscape level.

  • The team welcomed University of Montana Research Associate, Jason Tack to the team. His work will focus primarily on learning about the role that mesic (wetland) resources play in wildlife populations across the West.

  • New research released as part of SGI’s Science to Solutions series shows that restoring sagebrush ecosystems benefits songbirds and other wildlife, in addition to agricultural landowners and sage grouse.

Read more results in this full report.

View past quarterly reports:

July-September 2015

April-June 2015

January-March 2015

October-December 2014

July-September 2014

April-June 2014

January-March 2014

October-December 2013

July-September 2013

April – June 2013

January – March 2013

October – December 2012

July – September 2012

April – June 2012

January – March 2012

Landowners Create Legacy Of Open Land Across The West

Montana’s Hart Ranch is 3,500 acres of hilly grasslands not far from the Canadian border. It lies squarely in Greater sage-grouse country, along the bird’s longest-known travel corridor: a 150-mile route between Saskatchewan and the Missouri River.

Thanks to a remarkable public-private partnership, this section of the grouse’s habitat will remain intact for generations to come. Nearly 2,500 acres of Hart Ranch are now protected from development under a conservation easement brokered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The arrangement, which still permits the grazing of livestock, is a key component of a 32,249-acre network of easements that protect habitat along the grouse’s travel route.

Hart Ranch reflects a monumental effort to conserve sagebrush habitat and the rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. The easements are part of NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative—a case study in how to reach out and work effectively with private landowners. Western ranchers, with the help of NRCS, state wildlife agencies, and groups such as The Conservation Fund, are central to this important conservation effort.

Since 2010, more than 1,100 ranchers have enrolled in SGI programs, conserving more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat across 11 states. The venture is poised to have an even greater impact in coming years: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently unveiled a plan to invest an additional $211 million in SGI’s conservation efforts through 2018.

Click here to read the full post on ABC’s blog.

Read more about easements on the Hart Ranch.

Assessing Fuel Loads in Sagebrush Steppe and PJ Woodlands

Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 9: Assessing Fuel Loads in Sagebrush Steppe and PJ Woodlands

By: Stephen C. Bunting and Jeff Rose


This fact sheet helps define wildland fuels and review some of the approaches used to assess fuel loads in Great Basin ecosystems. Assessing wildland fuel loading is important for quantifying potential fire hazards, for monitoring the effectiveness of fuel treatments, and for predicting fire behavior, soil heating, fuel consumption, and emissions. The different methods developed to assess fuel loads in sagebrush steppe and juniper woodland vegetation vary in accuracy, and in time and effort required for sampling. Identifying areas of high and low fuel loading helps during the planning and implementation phases of a project.

In Brief:

  • Managers have developed several approaches for assessing fuel loads that vary with landscape scale, required data accuracy and precision, and resources available for data collection.
  • Understanding and quantifying the different components of wildland fuels, such as total fuel, consumable fuel, and time-lag fuels, is the first step for developing valid estimates of fuel loads.
  • Methods vary from those that are rapid and more qualitative to those that are quantitative. They include fire behavior fuel models, photo series, photoload methods, the planar-intersect method, and remote sensing.
  • Approaches vary in accuracy and in time and effort required for sampling. Fire behavior fuel models or photo series guides are effective for rapidly assess­ing fuel loads on multiple sites, but more intensive methods such as the planar intersect method are useful during the personnel-training phase.

Click here or on the image below to download a PDF of the full fact sheet.

 fuel loads

This fact sheet is part of the Great Basin Fact Sheet Series compiled collaboratively by WAFWA, USFS, BLM, NRCS, RMRS, ARS, USGS, and FWS. The series provides land managers with brief summaries of current science concepts and management strategies related to conservation and restoration of the sagebrush sea.