Sagebrush Conservation Strategy—Challenges to Sagebrush Conservation

Open-File Report 2020-1125
Prepared in cooperation with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By: , and 

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Abstract

The sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) biome, its wildlife, and the services and benefits it provides people and local communities are at risk. Development in the sagebrush biome, for many purposes, has resulted in multiple and often cumulative negative impacts. These impacts, ranging from simple habitat loss to complex, interactive changes in ecosystem function, continue to accelerate even as the need grows for the resources provided by this biome. This “Sagebrush Conservation Strategy—Challenges to Sagebrush Conservation,” is an overview and assessment of the challenges facing land managers and landowners in conserving sagebrush ecosystems. This strategy is intended to provide guidance so that the unparalleled collaborative efforts to conserve the iconic greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) by State and Federal agencies, Tribes, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders can be expanded to the entire sagebrush biome to benefit the people and wildlife that depend on this ecosystem. This report is organized into 3 parts.

“Part I. Importance of the Sagebrush Biome to People and Wildlife” introduces the biome and a subset of the more than 350 species of plants and animals associated with sagebrush for which there is some level of conservation concern. These include several sagebrush obligates that have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including greater sage-grouse, Gunnison sage-grouse (C. minimus; listed as threatened), and pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis). Other sagebrush-dependent species, such as pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), have experienced significant population declines.

“Part II. Change Agents in the Sagebrush Biome—Extent, Impacts, and Effort to Address Them” is an overview of the variety of change agents that are causing the continued loss and degradation of sagebrush. Topics covered include altered fire regimes, invasive plant species, conifer expansion, overabundant free-roaming equids, and human land uses, including energy development, cropland conversion, infrastructure, and improper livestock grazing. Climate changes, including warmer temperatures and altered amounts and timing of precipitation, have and will likely increasingly compound negative effects to sagebrush ecosystems from all these threats.

“Part III. Current Conservation Paradigm and Other Conservation Needs for Sagebrush” begins with an overview of how sage-grouse conservation, and the associated efforts and collaborations, may be able to address threats to and restoring degraded sagebrush and habitat for other sagebrush-dependent and -associated species. Meeting conservation goals for sage-grouse, mule deer, pygmy rabbits, and other sagebrush-associated wildlife will require extensive restoration of sagebrush communities already converted or degraded by the change agents outlined in Part II of this report. Concepts, considerations, techniques for restoration, and adaptive management and monitoring are discussed to help set the stage for potential strategies to improve conditions throughout the sagebrush biome. Communication, outreach, and engagement can enhance grassroots conservation efforts and build the next generation of managers, practitioners, scientists, and communicators who will care for the sagebrush ecosystem and stimulate or sustain public participation in sagebrush conservation issues.

Suggested Citation

Remington, T.E., Deibert, P.A., Hanser, S.E., Davis, D.M., Robb, L.A., and Welty, J.L., 2021, Sagebrush conservation strategy—Challenges to sagebrush conservation: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1125, 327 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20201125.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

ISSN: 0196-1497 (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Contributors
  • Common and Scientific Names of Animal Species in this Report
  • Common and Scientific Names of Plant Species in this Report
  • Executive Summary
  • PART I. Importance of the Sagebrush Biome to People and Wildlife
  • Chapter A. Introduction to the Sagebrush Biome
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • History of the Sagebrush Biome
  • Sagebrush Benefits, Sagebrush Wildlife
  • Chapter B. Human Dimensions of Sagebrush
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Historical Relationship of Humans to Sagebrush
  • Ecosystem Services
  • Threats
  • Chapter C. Sagebrush Birds
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Habitat Selection and Dependency on Sagebrush
  • Population Trends and Conservation Status
  • Threats
  • Management Considerations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter D. Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Habitat Selection and Dependency on Sagebrush
  • Movements and Home Ranges
  • Population Trends and Conservation Status
  • Threats
  • Management Considerations
  • Chapter E. Pygmy Rabbit
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Habitat Selection and Dependency on Sagebrush
  • Movements and Home Ranges
  • Population Trends and Conservation Status
  • Threats
  • Management Considerations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter F. Pronghorn
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Habitat Selection and Dependency on Sagebrush
  • Movements and Migration
  • Population Trends and Conservation Status
  • Threats
  • Management Considerations
  • Chapter G. Mule Deer
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Habitat Selection and Dependency on Sagebrush
  • Movements and Home Ranges
  • Population Trends and Conservation Status
  • Threats
  • Management Considerations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter H. Sagebrush-Dependent Small Mammals
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Dark Kangaroo Mouse
  • Great Basin and Columbia Plateau Pocket Mouse
  • Merriam’s Shrew
  • Preble’s Shrew
  • Ord’s Kangaroo Rat
  • Sagebrush Vole
  • Southern Idaho Ground Squirrel
  • Wyoming Ground Squirrel
  • Wyoming Pocket Gopher
  • White-Tailed Prairie Dog
  • Black-Tailed Jackrabbit
  • Chapter I. Amphibians and Reptiles in Sagebrush
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Amphibians
  • Reptiles
  • Conservation Status
  • Threats
  • Management Considerations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix I1. Amphibians and Reptiles that Overlap with the Sagebrush Biome
  • Part II. Change Agents in the Sagebrush Biome—Extent, Impacts, and Efforts to Address Them
  • Chapter J. Altered Fire Regimes
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The Role of Wildfire in Sagebrush Ecosystems
  • Recent Fire Trends and Patterns
  • Impact of Altered Fire Regimes on Sagebrush Communities and Postfire Recovery
  • Impacts of Altered Fire Regimes on Wildlife
  • Impacts of Prescribed Fire on Wildlife
  • Impacts of Altered Fire Regimes on Ecosystem Services
  • Fire-Suppression Costs
  • Burned Area Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Costs
  • Other Costs Associated with Wildfire
  • Current Coordination Efforts Among Federal, State, and Tribal Entities to Address Fire
  • Chapter K. Invasive Plant Species
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Invasive Plant Descriptions and Regulations
  • Impacts of Invasive Plants on Wildlife Communities
  • Impacts of Invasive Plants on Human Needs and Values
  • Support for Invasive Plant Threat Reduction
  • Management for Threat Abatement
  • Appendix K1. Nonnative Invasive Plants in Sagebrush Ecosystems
  • Chapter L. Climate Adaptation
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Climate Change Trajectories and Impacts
  • Plant Community Impacts
  • Wildlife and Livestock Impacts
  • Diseases and Impacts to Wildlife and Humans
  • Climate Change Adaptation
  • Current Programs and Activities
  • Appendix L1. A Selection of Climate Vulnerability Assessments and Adaptation Strategies Relevant to the Sagebrush Biome
  • Chapter M. Conifer Expansion
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Nature and Extent of Conifer Expansion
  • Impact on Sagebrush Communities, Ecosystem Processes, and Wildlife Communities
  • Impact on Human Resource Needs and Values
  • Current Efforts to Address Conifer Expansion
  • Efficacy of Tree Removal at Restoring Ecosystem Function and Plant and Animal Communities
  • Potential Impact of Conifer Removal on Sagebrush Species
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter N. Free-Roaming Equids
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Legal Status of Horses and Burros on Public Lands
  • Administrative Structure
  • Impacts of Free-Roaming Equids
  • Free-Roaming Equid Management
  • Free-Roaming Equid Fertility Management
  • Human Dimensions and Free-Roaming Equids
  • Management Considerations
  • Chapter O. Mining and Energy
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Mining
  • Nonmining Energy Development
  • Renewable Energy Development
  • Reclamation Requirements for Mining and Energy Development Activities
  • Current Federal and State Regulatory and Mitigation Approaches
  • Voluntary Conservation Actions
  • Best Management Practices to Avoid, Minimize, or Mitigate Impacts of Mining and Energy
  • Mining and Energy—Key Gaps
  • Chapter P. Land Use and Development
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Conversion of Sagebrush to Croplands
  • Federal and State Agricultural Programs
  • Livestock Grazing
  • Infrastructure
  • Residential Development
  • Recreation
  • Cumulative Impacts and Conclusions
  • Part III. Current Conservation Paradigm and Other Conservation Needs for Sagebrush
  • Chapter Q. Sage-Grouse Management as an Umbrella for Conservation of Sagebrush
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Management of Sagebrush
  • Sage-Grouse Conservation as an Umbrella
  • Chapter R. Restoration
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Restoration for Wildlife Conservation
  • Sagebrush Restoration
  • Landscape-Level Characterization and Prioritization
  • Project-Level Prioritization and Planning
  • Frameworks and Tools
  • Evaluation of Outcomes
  • Social and Economic Costs and Opportunities
  • Appendix R1. Generalized and Sagebrush-Ecosystem Specific Information Sources
  • Chapter S. Adaptive Management and Monitoring
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Adaptive Management
  • Vegetation Monitoring
  • Project-Level Monitoring
  • State Agency Vegetation Monitoring Efforts
  • Remote Sensing and Geospatial Data for Monitoring
  • Additional Datasets for Monitoring and Adaptive Management
  • Challenges and Opportunities for Vegetation Monitoring
  • Wildlife Monitoring
  • Challenges and Opportunities to Implement Adaptive Management for Wildlife
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix S1. Comparison of Federal Monitoring Programs in Rangelands
  • Appendix S2. Remotely Sensed Maps of Rangeland Vegetation Available Across the Sagebrush Biome
  • Chapter T. Communication and Public Engagement
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Why Communication is Essential to Sagebrush Conservation Success
  • Current Capacity for Communication
  • Brand Identity
  • Public Perception
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Collaboration with Communicators
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix T1. Communication Models
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Sagebrush conservation strategy—Challenges to sagebrush conservation
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2020-1125
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201125
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center, Fort Collins Science Center
Description xxxiv, 327 p.
Country United States
State Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, Washington
Online Only (Y/N) N
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