Guzzling Water & Planting Sagebrush | What’s Happening For Sage Grouse On Public Land In Montana

December 20, 2016

A “stealth cam” installed by BLM’s Dillon Field Office captures sage grouse drinking from water storage tanks installed on public land in southwest Montana. These tanks provide a reliable water source for sagebrush-dependent wildlife and relieve pressure on agricultural lands.

Since half of all habitat for greater sage-grouse is on public land, most of it managed by BLM, restoring public rangeland is vital for the birds to thrive.

The American West is a patchwork of private and public lands, including sagebrush country. Sage grouse are a landscape species that don’t stop at fences. Since these iconic birds depend on vast, intact sagebrush habitat, the Sage Grouse Initiative and our many partners work together across ownership boundaries to conserve the vital resources that sustain the bird, the herd, and 350 other species — including people.

The Bureau of Land Management recently completed two sagebrush conservation projects that benefit people and wildlife on both public and private land in Montana.

Mule deer and a greater sage-grouse take a water break at a 'guzzler' installed for wildlife on BLM land.

A greater sage-grouse watches a mule deer take a water break at a ‘guzzler’ installed for wildlife on BLM land.

In southwest Montana, BLM’s Dillon Field Office placed “stealth cameras” on water guzzlers — storage tanks that catch rainwater and snowmelt and dispense the water for thirsty wildlife living in the dry sagebrush ecosystem. BLM’s Dillon Field Office has installed several wildlife guzzlers over the last few years to provide a reliable water source for wildlife during drought cycles. The guzzlers also help reduce pressure on agricultural lands where pronghorn, deer and elk may congregate in late summer in search of water.

This past summer, BLM staff placed trail cameras at several guzzlers to see what wildlife they attracted. As expected, they spotted plenty of pronghorn, deer, coyotes, and magpies.

But the big surprise were the flocks of sage grouse! Usually greater sage-grouse receive enough fluid from eating succulent sagebrush leaves. But sometimes the birds rely on water sources — like the BLM’s well-placed guzzler.

Read the full “My Public Lands” blog post here by Kelly Bockting and Nancy Patterson.

In central Montana, BLM hosted a sagebrush planting project to test how best to restore burned areas or sagebrush converted to cropland.

In central Montana, BLM hosted a sagebrush planting project to test how best to restore sagebrush habitat that had burned in wildfire or been converted to cropland.

And in central Montana, the BLM’s Lewistown Field office coordinated the Hale Crested Conversion and Sagebrush Planting Project to test which planting methods and sagebrush species work best at restoring sagebrush habitat that’s either been burned in a wildfire or converted to crop fields. Volunteers and public servants planted over 10,000 sagebrush seedlings using all sorts of contraptions, like tractors, drills, and gas-powered augers.

Like many of the sagebrush restoration projects on BLM land, these seedlings were collected near the planting site and then grown in partnership with inmates at local prisons or work centers for adults with developmental disabilities.

 Check out more videos and photos of sagebrush planting here on the BLM Flickr site.

BLM staff plant sagebrush seedlings in a field converted to wheat crops to restore habitat for sage grouse and wildlife.

BLM staff plant sagebrush seedlings to restore habitat for sage grouse and other wildlife.


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.