A report by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) shows continued grazing by livestock benefits sage grouse habitat and nesting, contrary to previous grazing practices.
The report cites several studies on the effects of grazing on sage grouse habitat. The report states pastures that rested from grazing did not benefit the bird’s populations as originally thought. WLFW cites a study conducted in 2018 and published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, which showed rotational grazing systems and rest had negligible effects on vegetation height and cover relative to other grazing strategies.
Findings in the study reveal that female sage grouse select nesting sites with sagebrush cover and distance from roads, suggesting the focus should be on adequate cover and preventing the fragmentation of grazing lands. Consequently, NRCS has reduced financial incentives for extended rest within rotational grazing systems.
A separate study in the same landscape of vegetation height found “arthropods consumed by sage grouse were twice as prevalent in grazed shrublands than in nearby pastures that had been idled” without grazing for a decade.
The report cited separate studies, stating the methodologies to study the relationship between sage grouse and grazing restrictions “are inherently biased.” A meta-analysis of the effects of forage height and nesting selection shows the relationship has been “inappropriately extrapolated in developing range-wide habitat management objectives.”
WLFW found restricting grazing on public lands can increase habitat loss on private lands and reduce community support for conservation, as ranchers rely on grazing access to public lands. WLFW suggested, “A preferred approach for maintaining habitat is a policy that facilitates management on public lands while also supporting sustainable, economically viable ranching operations on private lands.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor