Webinar: Landscape to Local – A multi-scale evaluation of voluntary efforts to reduce fragmentation and enhance management of rangelands for sage-grouse

sagebrush conservation

When: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 | 11:00am MST

Host: Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan

Speaker: Joe Smith, University of Montana

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Description & Abstract: For imperiled species, the hierarchical nature of habitat selection suggests the need for a hierarchical approach to conservation: address threats to persistence operating at broad scales on populations before focusing on the quality of patches or availability of particular resources used by individuals. We apply this approach to conservation and management of habitat for greater sage-grouse in the eastern portion of their range where cropland conversion continues to fragment sagebrush grasslands.

Using locations of active leks in portions of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota as spatial indices of populations, we found sage-grouse distribution was highly sensitive to cropland fragmentation. A single square-mile parcel broken out into cropland can thus reduce population persistence within an area twelve times that size, emphasizing the need to conserve large, intact sagebrush landscapes. Simulated cropland buildout scenarios indicate 5-7% of the northern Great Plains population remains vulnerable to future cropland conversion. We demonstrate, however, that with a targeting scheme incorporating biological value, risk, and cost, a $100M investment in conservation easements could reduce potential losses by 80%.

Next, using radio-marked birds to locate and monitor nests in a large-scale, replicated, natural grazing experiment in central Montana, we tested hypothesized relationships between livestock grazing and sage-grouse nest site selection and survival and evaluated effects of rest-rotation grazing systems on vegetation structure and nest survival. Surprisingly, we found no evidence that herbaceous vegetation structure affected choice of nest site or nest survival. Instead, females selected nest sites based on relatively static features such as sagebrush cover, terrain roughness, landscape fragmentation, and distance to major roads, while nest survival was affected primarily by severe weather.


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.