Conservation Insight Report Confirms Benefits of Conifer Removal
March 21, 2019
New Report Confirms Benefits of Removing Encroaching Conifers
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife initiatives strategically implement conservation practices that benefit working lands, the wildlife that live on these lands, and the surrounding local communities. One way NRCS ensures its efforts are making a meaningful and lasting difference is through the multi-agency Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and its wildlife Conservation Insight series. In February, CEAP published “Conifer Removal Benefits Sage-Grouse, Other Sagebrush Birds, and Rangeland Productivity,” which highlights the benefits of removing encroaching conifers from sagebrush ecosystems.
This report examined several studies that evaluated conifer removal projects implemented through the Sage Grouse Initiative, public land agencies, and other partners to determine the overall effectiveness of conifer removal activities across sagebrush landscapes.
The findings are summarized below and the full report is available here.
Summary of Findings:
- The encroachment of native conifers (pinyon-juniper) into western sage-steppe rangelands has negatively affected ecosystem services provided by sagebrush habitats and threatens sagebrush-dependent wildlife. Where these conifers now dominate, relationships between snow distributions, water budgets, plant community dynamics, and wildlife habitat are disrupted.
- Large-scale encroached conifer removal is an increasingly widespread practice that benefits rangeland productivity and restores habitat quality for sage grouse and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife. Recent studies show that after encroached conifers are removed, sage-grouse occupancy, nest survival, and brood success are greatly improved. Studies also show that sagebrush songbirds recolonize rapidly following encroached conifer removal.
- Encroached conifers cause snow to accumulate uniformly on rangelands, resulting in faster snowmelt than on more open landscapes where water is stored longer in drifted snow. Removing the conifers can improve summer water budgets, which benefits ranchers and wildlife.
- Through the Sage Grouse Initiative, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and partners have worked to increase the utilization of mechanical conifer removal to improve and restore sagebrush habitats for wildlife and rangeland sustainability.
The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.