This section explores the tools available to land managers. Scroll down the page to read each sub-section, or click the Land Management Tools drop-down navigation to go directly to a sub-section.
Begin by listening to Jeanne Chambers discuss the focus for managers in the eastern range.
Some management strategies and tools for persistent ecosystem and anthropogenic threats are presented here with reference to the cells of the sage-grouse habitat Resilience and Resistance matrix (Chambers et al. 2016, table 5).
Although the fire regime is greatly changed in the eastern range from pre-settlement conditions, in general, although numerous fires have burned in this ecoregion in the past 15 years, most large fires have occurred within conifer dominated ecosystems and outside of sage-grouse Priority Areas for Conservation (Chambers et al. 2016, Figure 8). Protection of areas supporting sagebrush is important for maintaining sage-grouse habitat. Management Zone I has limited availability of sagebrush and all areas with moderate and low resilience and resistance have longer recovery periods.
Figure 8 Click the image for a printable version.
Fire suppression typically shifts from low to moderate priority when resistance and resilience categories shift from high to moderate (matrix column C -> column B), but it varies with large fire risk and landscape condition. In low resistance and resilience areas, the priority shifts from moderate to high as sage-grouse habitat probability increases (cells 3B -> 3C). Scenarios requiring high fire suppression priority may include:
Fuels management includes vegetation projects that mitigate wildfire risk, improve resilience to disturbance, and restore habitat, as well as actions intended to protect intact sage-grouse habitat.
Mechanical treatments are typically applied to reduce fuel loading or to alter species composition consistent with Land Use Plan objectives.
Prescribed fire is one form of fuels management that may be used to improve habitat conditions or create fuel conditions that limit future fire spread in areas with moderate to high resilience and resistance, but should be considered only after consultation with local biologists and land managers.
Chemical and seeding treatments are conducted to reduce invasive species and to change species composition to native and/or more fire resistant species where native perennial grasses and forbs are depleted.
Herbicide treatments and seedings are used to decrease invasive species composition and increase native species dominance where perennial native grasses and forbs are insufficient for site recovery. Herbicide treatments may be selectively applied in conjunction with prescribed fire or mechanical treatments. Typically, these treatments are in response to clear evidence of a nonnative invasive species threat.
Post-fire rehabilitation is a cross-cutting effort involving range, wildlife, soils, fire, and fuels subject matter expertise. General considerations for prioritization of post-fire rehabilitation efforts are:
Annual grass/fire cycles and increases in fire frequency are not yet as problematic in the Eastern Range as in the western portion of the range, but conversion to invasive annual grasses is an increasing problem in some areas (Chambers et al. 2016).
Invasive annual grasses and other annual invaders are facilitated by oil and gas drilling, mining disturbances, and vegetation management treatments designed to reduce Wyoming big sagebrush density and increase understory grasses and forbs.
Protect high quality (relatively weed-free) sagebrush communities with moderate-to-high sage-grouse habitat probabilities (matrix cells 1B, 1C, 2B, 2C, 3B, 3C):
Where weed populations already exist, seek opportunities to maximize treatment effectiveness by prioritizing restoration within relatively intact sagebrush communities (matrix cells 1B, 1C, 2B, 2C, 3B, 3C). Restoration will likely be easier at locations in cooler and moister ecological types with higher resilience and resistance.
Restrict spread of large weed infestations located in lower habitat probability areas (cells 1A, 2A, 3A) to prevent compromising adjacent higher quality habitats (matrix cells 1B, 1C, 2B, 2C, 3B, 3C).
Studies on the impacts of conifer expansion on Greater Sage-Grouse from across the eastern range indicate that the species avoids or is negatively associated with conifer cover during lekking, nesting, summer, and wintering life stages. Furthermore, summer survival of females in Wyoming was negatively associated with proximity to forested areas and sage-grouse mortality was higher closer to woodlands than for locations farther from woodlands. Conifer expansion is a minor to major threat in many, but not all, parts of the eastern range (Chambers et al. 2016, Figure 11). Outside the eastern range, sage-grouse have been shown to incur population-level impacts at a very low level of conifer expansion (Baruch-Mordo et al. 2013).
Figure 11 Click the image for a printable version.
Some recommend practices for conifer management include:
Begin by watching this video from the Sage Grouse Initiative about developing grazing systems for cattle and sage-grouse in Montana.
Livestock grazing is the most widespread land use in the eastern range (Chambers et al. 2016).
Literature reviews suggest that the greatest potential for livestock grazing to affect sage-grouse habitat is by changing composition, structure, and productivity of herbaceous plants used for nesting/early brood-rearing (e.g., Boyd et al. 2014). Research indicates that sage-grouse nest and early brood micro-habitat selection and brood-rearing success are closely tied to areas with greater sagebrush and grass canopy cover and height than are randomly available in sagebrush landscapes. As an additional consideration, infrastructure related to domestic livestock grazing (e.g., water developments) can result in loss of vegetation structure and plant species diversity near these features and fences can contribute to collision related mortality, particularly when located on flat terrain in close proximity to leks.
Manage livestock grazing to maintain a balance of perennial native grasses (warm and/or cool season species as described in the Ecological Site Descriptions for that area), forbs, and biological soil crusts to allow natural regeneration and to maintain resilience. Ensure strategies prevent degradation and loss of native cool-season grasses in particular. Areas with low to moderate resilience and resistance may be particularly vulnerable (matrix cells 2A, 2B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C)
Implement grazing strategies that incorporate periodic rest during the critical growth period, especially for cool season grasses, to ensure maintenance of a mixture of native perennial grasses. This strategy is important across all sites, but particularly essential on areas with low to moderate resilience and resistance supporting sage-grouse habitat (cells 2B, 2C, 3B, 3C).
Ensure grazing strategies are designed to promote native plant communities and decrease nonnative invasive species. In ephemeral drainages and higher precipitation areas that receive more summer moisture and have populations of nonnative invasive plant species, too much rest may inadvertently favor species such as field brome, Kentucky bluegrass, and smooth brome. Adjustments in timing, duration, and intensity of grazing may be needed to reduce these species.
Loss of sagebrush cover associated with energy, primarily oil and gas development, has been well-documented and is considered a persistent and widespread threat to almost all Greater Sage-Grouse populations in the eastern range.
Research indicates that energy development activities have significant effects on sage-grouse and can result in localized extirpations of sage-grouse populations. In addition, infrastructure related to energy development (e.g., roads, pipelines, storage facilities, mines, wind turbines, transmission lines) decreases the effectiveness of habitat for sage-grouse.
Management strategies include:
Avoid development, if feasible, in areas with high breeding habitat probability for sage-grouse and high sagebrush cover (matrix cells 1C, 2C, 3C) and steer development to non-habitat areas (cells 1A, 2A, 3A).
Minimize habitat fragmentation in areas with moderate and high breeding habitat probabilities for sage-grouse (matrix cells 1B, 2B, 3B, 1C, 2C, 3C).
For disturbances that remove vegetation and cause soil disturbance, minimize and mitigate impacts (top soil banking, certified weed-free seed mixes, appropriate seeding technologies, and monitoring). Plan for multiple restoration interventions in areas with low resilience and resistance (matrix cells 3B, 3C).
Minimize energy transport corridors (e.g., roads, pipelines, transmission lines) and limit vehicle access, where feasible.
Maintain resilience and resistance of existing patches of sagebrush habitat by aggressively managing weeds that may require the following management practices (especially important in low resilience and resistant areas - matrix cells 3A, 3B, 3C):
Reduction and fragmentation of sagebrush habitats can decrease Greater Sage-Grouse abundance and reduce the distribution of sage-grouse across the landscape. In addition, indirect effects such as increased mortality and reduced reproductive success of sage-grouse have also been documented.
Loss of sagebrush due to urban and exurban (residential) development since Anglo-American settlement is estimated at up to 29.2% in parts of the eastern range. Most residential areas are on the edge of the current distribution of sagebrush and Greater Sage-Grouse rather than within core areas, but resource use and connecting infrastructure can extend well beyond the boundaries of developed areas.
Conversion of rangeland to cropland is considered a persistent and widespread threat in areas with higher precipitation and more productive soils across the eastern range, but not elsewhere. Extensive cultivation and fragmentation of native habitats have been associated with sage-grouse population declines and research indicates that Greater Sage-Grouse populations cannot persist in areas with < 25% landscape cover of sagebrush.
Where climate change effects are expected to be minimal, the logical approach is to use best management practices to build resilience into sagebrush ecosystems. Maintaining and restoring habitat, actions to facilitate species of interest, and an increased emphasis on managing other threats, such as nonnative invasives, improper grazing, and fire, are key components of building resilience.
As climate change progresses and temperatures increase, the frequency and magnitude of drought is expected to increase. Implementing measures to reduce the interacting negative effects of habitat loss and climate change and facilitate recovery from drought will become increasingly important. Drought adaptation measures may include changes in land uses such as a reduction in livestock stocking rates. An increased emphasis on EDRR to nonnative invasive plants may be needed as climate suitability for these species is likely to increase in many areas. Also, habitat modifications such as creating and protecting migration corridors in fragmented landscapes may be necessary to facilitate persistence of sage-grouse and other species that use sagebrush habitats.