Study Shows That Fence Markers Reduce Sage Grouse Mortality in Wyoming

February 27, 2015

Read this Science to Solutions article to learn more about why marking fences is important for the survival of sage grouse in the West.

One of the focus areas for the Sage Grouse Initiative’s proactive conservation efforts is marking fences that pose a risk to sage grouse flying through the open range. SGI and our partners have marked or moved 590 miles of high-risk fence rangewide so that grouse can thrive in the sagebrush sea for years to come. Since 2010, these fence markers have reduced bird strikes by 83%, preventing 2,600 collisions that kill or maim this important bird species.

In addition to on-the-ground projects like fence-marking, conifer removal, or grazing management, the Sage Grouse Initiative is pioneering the use of cutting-edge science to document the biological benefits of Farm Bill investments in conserving and improving rangeland in the West. We rely on scientific monitoring tools to measure the impact of each project on wildlife habitat.

New findings like those below from the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory allow resource managers, ranchers, and communities to target conservation funds to the places and projects that make the most difference sage grouse and other wildlife.

Scroll down to see a summary of early results from RMBO’s multi-year study on the impacts of marking fences in Wyoming, or click here to read the full article:

Greater Sage-Grouse feathers caught in this fence provide evidence of a likely strike. Photo by Laura Quattrini.

Greater Sage-Grouse feathers caught in this fence provide evidence of a likely strike. Photo by Laura Quattrini.

In the fall of 2013, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory initiated a multi-year study in Sublette County, Wyoming, to test the effectiveness of different types of fence markers that help prevent grouse from colliding with barbed wire fences. In the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014, RMBO biologists and technicians, with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Bureau of Land Management, installed three different styles of fence markers, covering almost 24 miles of fencing, throughout Sublette County where collision risk was thought to be high.

Technicians then patrolled stretches of marked and unmarked fencing to document collisions and test the effectiveness of the fence markers. Despite the snowy spring hampering access to sites, the crew was able to survey nearly 340 miles of fences. Those survey miles resulted in more than 15 confirmed strikes, and more than 25 additional places where sage-grouse likely hit the fence.

Greater Sage-Grouse take flight during last spring's study season. Only the posts of the fence line in the background are visible. Photo by Galen Reid.

Greater Sage-Grouse take flight during last spring’s study season. Only the posts of the fence line in the background are visible. Photo by Galen Reid.

The strike evidence is persisting in the environment longer than we suspected, despite the Wyoming wind. Also, we are discovering evidence that more than just Greater Sage-Grouse are colliding with fences. Lastly, we’re finding lots of evidence of raptors plucking and consuming their meals atop fence posts, which is not surprising considering the high density of Rough-legged Hawks and Golden Eagles that make Sublette County their home in March and April.

Next week, we plan to revisit the study area and begin patrolling fencing for the next two months. We’re anticipating finding considerably more instances where sage-grouse hit the fences this spring for several reasons: (1) last year’s snow covered much of the fencing, meaning there wasn’t much exposed fencing to collide with at quite a few of the sites; (2) the crew will begin surveying about two weeks earlier than in 2014 because we won’t have to install markers this year; and (3) it’s possible that the sage-grouse weren’t using many of the areas within our study sites last year because the deep snow was covering much of the sagebrush – their primary source of food in the winter. Stay tuned for our next fence marking blog post to learn how the 2015 spring season went and what we found!

 This post originally appeared here on the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory website, and was written by Taylor Gorman, Field Crew Leader, and Nick Van Lanen, Biologist.

 

 

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.