Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms

04.04.2014

Post-wildfire stabilization treatment has not aided habitat restoration for the imperiled Great Plains birds.

As fires sweep more frequently across the American Great Basin, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been tasked with reseeding the burned landscapes to stabilize soils.


—An early summer storm passes over sagebrush country near Hollister, Idaho. The area has not burned within the 20 year time frame of the study. It features mature sagebrush, but also non-native cheatgrass, mustard, and crested wheatgrass, and barbed-wire fencing, which provides perches for predatory birds. Non-native plants and human infrastructure diminish the quality of the habitat for sage grouse. Credit, Robert Arkle, June 2011.

BLM’s interventions have not helped to restore habitat for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) reported scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Forest Service in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecosphere last week, but outlier project sites with good grouse habitat may yield clues to successful management scenarios.

Their report arrives in the shadow of a pending decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and efforts by BLM and FWS to establish voluntary conservation and restoration management plans in lieu of endangered species listing mandates.

... more about:
»BLM »Basin »ESA »ESR »Ecosphere »habitat »species »treatments

Protection of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could affect the management of 250,000 square miles of land in the western US. FWS must decide on the grouse’s protection status by the end of FY 2015.

Wildfire is the predominant cause of habitat loss in the Great Basin. The sagebrush ecosystem is not adapted to frequent fires like some forests in California and the central Rockies, and fires have increased in frequency and in size over the last half century.

“The most common species, big sagebrush, doesn’t re-sprout from the stump. After it burns, it’s dead and it has to reseed, and it’s not very good at dispersing seeds long distance,” said author Robert Arkle, a supervisory ecologist for the USGS Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center at the Snake River Field Station in Idaho. “Seeds aren’t viable very long. Some years they don’t reproduce at all, without the right spring conditions. Getting sage established out in the middle of these big burned areas is a difficult task.”

Arkle emphasized that recovery of sage grouse habitat is not part of BLM’s wildfire response directive. BLM’s Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) program is designed to reestablish perennial plant cover following wildfire, preventing erosion and limiting the spread of non-native species.

“Accomplishing those goals certainly wouldn’t hurt sage grouse, but whether or not these treatments provide a benefit for sage grouse doesn’t have bearing on the success of the ESR program,” said Arkle. “It’s important to recognize the difficulty of what the land management community is trying to do.”

Historically, the Great Basin burned in smaller, patchier conflagrations, at intervals on the order of once per century. Managers are now seeing sagebrush country burn every 20 years in parts of the Great Basin, fueled by drought and vigorous non-natives like cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum).

 “Almost a million acres burn each year in the Great Basin and, since 1990, about 6% of the Great Basin has been treated with these ESR projects. Almost all treated acres occur in historic sage grouse habitat,” said Arkle. That’s why the team chose to look at ESR project sites. “We have this problem with non-native plants coming in, changing the fire cycle, and promoting more frequent fires. We wanted to know if ESR treatments had improved conditions for grouse in these vast burned areas.”

The average ESR project encompasses 4 square miles. In 2007, the Murphy Complex Fire burned 653,000 square miles in south-central Idaho. To cover such large areas, BLM spreads seed from aircraft or with tractor and rangeland drill seeders, usually in the fall or early winter. They customize a mix of forb, bunchgrass, and shrub seeds to the site. In recent years, BLM has moved to using native species when possible.

Arkle and colleagues examined 101 sites that burned once between 1990 and 2003. To select their sites, they compiled a database of fires and ESR projects from which they randomly chose a set of project sites with a gradient of precipitation and annual temperatures but similar soil types.

“Treated plots were not much more likely to be used by sage grouse than the burned and untreated, on average, but there were outliers. Those are important, because they are sites where the treatments were more effective, in terms of sage grouse habitat,” said Arkle.

Sage grouse prefer land that has not burned at all in recent decades. Arkle and his colleagues found little sagebrush cover at burned sites, whether treated or not.

“I think that’s the most important finding, because some sites burned 20 years ago and still haven’t recovered,” said Arkle. “We did not see a trend of increasing sagebrush cover with time, so time is not the limiting factor in this 20 year window.” If not time, then what does sagebrush need to recover? The limiting factor could be related to climate, or prevalence of non-native plants. It is a question the researchers hope to address in the future.

Sage grouse are picky birds, Arkle and colleagues found, preferring a sagebrush steppe environment featuring very little human development and dwarf sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula, A. nova, or A. tripartita) but not cheatgrass or other non-native plants. Even in otherwise primo landscapes, if just 2.5% of the land is developed within five kilometers of a site, the birds will be half as likely to use it. If any development, including paved roads, can be seen, they don’t want be there. Seemingly low impact structures like fences and livestock watering stations provide predatory ravens with high perches from which to spy sage grouse nests.

The outlier ESR sites preferred by sage grouse had healthier sagebrush and shared common climate and post-treatment weather conditions. Sagebrush recovery fared better in more northerly, higher elevation sites, with relatively cool, moist springs. Spring weather has big role in successful germination and growth of sagebrush during the crucial first growing season. Sagebrush biology and physiology can be the biggest hurdle for restoration managers.

To Arkle’s mind, the study results argue for maintaining and protecting existing expanses of intact, high quality habitat, and only secondarily trying to fix what’s broken.

Experimental techniques have some promise, and include multiple seedings when the first try fails, out-planting pods of seedlings, and using different types of drill seeding equipment. Reseeding burns with local varietals or close genetic matches could improve recruitment. Controlling non-native plants with herbicides and fungal infections has been tried, with mixed results.

But the factors that ultimately determine the survival of the sagebrush ecosystem may be out of managers’ control. The study, and another tracking the recovery of mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana) at high elevation, suggest that climate may play a role in the failure of big sage germination and establishment in hotter locations. Managers can try to work with and around climate and weather constraints, but impending climate changes will likely make this task more difficult. Some sites are more resilient than others. It’s possible that parts of the Great Basin will cross a tipping point of climate and species representation, from which they cannot return.

“There is potential for sites to move into a new plant community state,” said Arkle. “It’s possible that some have gone past a threshold. We could have a really difficult time trying to move them back to plant communities that existed historically.” 

Robert S. Arkle, David S. Pilliod, Steven E. Hanser, Matthew L. Brooks, Jeanne C. Chambers, James B. Grace, Kevin C. Knutson, David A. Pyke, Justin L. Welty, and Troy A. Wirth 2014. Quantifying restoration effectiveness using multi-scale habitat models: implications for sage-grouse in the Great Basin. Ecosphere 5:art31.

This open access report was funded by the US Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service.

Liza Lester | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: BLM Basin ESA ESR Ecosphere habitat species treatments

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Hunting pressure on forest animals in Africa is on the increase
09.02.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Man-made underwater sound may have wider ecosystem effects than previously thought
05.02.2016 | University of Southampton

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Production of an AIDS vaccine in algae

Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.

The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...

Im Focus: The most accurate optical single-ion clock worldwide

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...

Im Focus: Goodbye ground control: autonomous nanosatellites

The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.

Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...

Im Focus: Flow phenomena on solid surfaces: Physicists highlight key role played by boundary layer velocity

Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.

The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Im Focus: New study: How stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels

A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Travel grants available: Meet the world’s most proficient mathematicians and computer scientists

09.02.2016 | Event News

AKL’16: Experience Laser Technology Live in Europe´s Largest Laser Application Center!

02.02.2016 | Event News

From intelligent knee braces to anti-theft backpacks

26.01.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules

11.02.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists take nanoparticle snapshots

11.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA sees development of Tropical Storm 11P in Southwestern Pacific

11.02.2016 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>