Effects of livestock grazing on nesting sage-grouse in central Montana

Joseph T. Smith, Jason D. Tack, Lorelle I. Berkeley, Mark Szczypinski, David E. Naugle
  • The Journal of Wildlife Management, June 2018, Wiley
  • DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21500

Effects of livestock grazing on nesting sage-grouse in central Montana

What is it about?

Sage-grouse have experienced long-term population declines throughout their range, and livestock grazing has been implicated as a contributing factor in spite of a lack of research directly linking grazing to sage-grouse demography. Grazing is thought to mainly affect nest success, a primary driver of population growth. We tested hypothesized effects of livestock grazing on nesting sage-grouse in a grazed landscape in central Montana and found little support for negative effects of grazing. Instead, nest site selection was driven by sagebrush cover, which is minimally affected by livestock, and distance to major roads, while nest survival was affected primarily by extended periods of heavy precipitation.

Why is it important?

Livestock grazing is the most widespread land use across the range of sage-grouse and therefore may have major implications for conservation of the species. Although studies reporting correlations between herbaceous vegetation height and nest success have provided indirect evidence that grazing may reduce reproductive success, our study is among the first to directly test for negative effects of livestock grazing on nesting sage-grouse. Our findings suggests ranching is a land use compatible with maintaining healthy sage-grouse populations.

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The following have contributed to this page: Joseph Smith