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Birds of a feather

July 2, 2014

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasiunus, hereafter sage-grouse) are broadly distributed, occupy a diversity of sagebrush habitats, and face multiple threats. As a result of these threats, sage-grouse populations are declining and are now absent from almost one-half of their estimated range prior to Euro-American settlement. The risks to sage-grouse are significant enough to merit candidate status for this species for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (Federal Register Notice, March 5, 2010). According to this decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010, population and habitat fragmentation coupled with lack of regulatory mechanisms warranted listing, although implementation of actions has been precluded by other priorities.

Candidate status for listing under the Endangered Species Act and possible regulatory action in the near future provide strong motivation to better understand the dynamics of sage-grouse populations and their habitat requirements. The general approach currently taken by managers focuses on maintaining or enhancing sage-grouse populations across their distribution in regions containing the highest densities of breeding birds and their important seasonal habitats, also known as priority areas for conservation (PACs). The rationale behind this approach is that it permits limited resources to be applied in regions that have the greatest potential to benefit the largest proportion of sage-grouse. Development and other forms of land use can then proceed under standard regulations in areas outside PACs. Implementation of this approach requires detailed information about habitat, connections among sage-grouse populations, and approaches to restore and maintain sagebrush. These are important topics of study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and its research partners.

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