As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepares to rework its rules regarding public lands and sage-grouse the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Working Lands for Wildlife program released a report detailing the impacts of grazing on sage-grouse.

Working Lands for Wildlife is a program founded and funded through the federal farm bill. It is in the office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and works with forest and agricultural organizations to voluntarily make improvements to their lands. The NRCS provides financial assistance through its various programs, and often targets animals that are listed or could possibly be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even though the sage-grouse was not listed in the ESA in 2015, the federal government said it would periodically review the status of the bird, which makes its home throughout several western states including southeastern Oregon. In 2019 some of the restrictions from the 2015 rule were relaxed, though environmental groups successfully sued to get the more stringent 2015 rules in place.

While the sage-grouse faces habitat fragmentation and loss in certain ranges of its habitat, in Oregon and southwestern Idaho much of the talk over the status of the sage-grouse is the impact grazing has on the sage-grouse nests and its ability to reproduce. Cahill Ranches in Adel is suing the BLM to get access to its allotment once more after the 2015 rules were issued by BLM.

Working Lands for Wildlife synthesized the data from several studies, some of the studies were funded by Working Lands for Wildlife and others were not. The studies ranged from one to ten years old.

In its analysis of the studies, the group found no correlation between resting land from grazing for 12 months and increase in nest survival rates. It noted in its report that the concealing cover for nests does not seem to be impacted by grazing strategies ranchers follow. In response to that information the NRCS has readjusted its delivery of best practices and financial incentives to de-emphasize extended rest periods in rotational grazing systems.

Additional studies revealed that female sage-grouse select nesting sites based on more static features such as sagebrush cover and distance from roads. The report recommends that areas of adequate sagebrush cover be conserved and prevent fragmentation of already intact grazing lands.

The food available for sage-grouse — arthropods — were higher in areas that had been grazed than in other areas that had not been grazed for more than a decade. Managed lands showed a more diverse arthropod species breakdown.

What impact this synthesis of scientific studies will have on the new rules being developed by the BLM in regards to sage-grouse remains unknown. In an email from the BLM, the agency said it is using the most up to date science available from 2015 to make the new rules.

To view the report visit bit.ly/SageGrouseRanch.

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