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 New mathematical model can help save endangered species
14.01.2019 | University of Southern Denmark

nachricht Foxes in the city: citizen science helps researchers to study urban wildlife
14.12.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

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: Ten-year anniversary of the Neumayer Station III

The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research

Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI

The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...

Im Focus: Ultra ultrasound to transform new tech

World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles

The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Additive manufacturing reflects fundamental metallurgical principles to create materials

18.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

How molecules teeter in a laser field

18.01.2019 | Life Sciences

The cytoskeleton of neurons has been found to be involved in Alzheimer's disease

18.01.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>