Jim and I have noticed that sage grouse broods seem to be larger, and do better, in pastures where our sheep are grazing. Our observations are anecdotal of course, but we figure there are a couple of reasons why grouse do well with livestock grazing. The presence of our guardian animals (both guardian dogs and burros) discourages the use of these areas by predators while the herd is present. When our herds leave a pasture, the predators return, re-inhabiting that space until the cycle begins the next year.
The other important factor is the fresh manure from livestock that provides for a localized increase in bugs – important for survival of sage grouse chicks.
A new research project in southeastern Montana found that sage grouse did better in pastures with livestock grazing than in pastures without livestock grazing. Here’s some highlights of the research:
• Nest success was higher for nests in pastures with livestock concurrently present (59%) than pastures without livestock (38%). Researchers observed no direct negative impacts (such as trampling) of livestock on nesting sage grouse.
• Brood success was higher for broods hatched in pastures with livestock (79%) than without livestock (61%). The researchers noted: “The mechanism driving this is unknown; it may have resulted from behavioral avoidance of livestock by predators, or reflect predator control efforts in areas with livestock.”
• “Our results provide further evidence that livestock presence on the landscape can benefit nesting and brood-rearing sage-grouse.”
• Mortality to adult hens was attributed primarily to avian predators (40%), followed by mammalian predators (27%). No mortalities were attributed to collisions with fences or power lines. • “Our results concur with research elsewhere that livestock grazing is compatible with sage-grouse conservation.”
The photos of grouse with cattle and sheep that accompany this post were taken on private land here in Sublette County, Wyoming. They demonstrate something the Montana researchers came away with: “Traditional family-owned ranching operations, the predominant local stakeholders in the Core Area, have historically managed land in a manner that is compatible with sage-grouse conservation and are well-poised to collaborate with wildlife and range professionals to maintain and improve sage-grouse habitat.”
The research was conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management.