Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Ecological influence and pathways of land use in sagebrush

August 19, 2011

Land use in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) landscapes influences all sage-grouse (Centrocer-cus spp.) populations in western North America. Croplands and the network of irrigation canals cover 230,000 km2 and indirectly influence up to 77% of the Sage-Grouse Conservation Area and 73% of sagebrush land cover by subsidizing synanthropic predators on sage-grouse. Urbanization and the demands of human population growth have created an extensive network of con-necting infrastructure that is expanding its influence on sagebrush landscapes. Over 2,500 km2 are now covered by interstate highways and paved roads; when secondary roads are included, 15% of the Sage-Grouse Conservation Area and 5% of existing sagebrush habitats are 2.5 km from roads. Density of secondary roads often exceeds 5 km/km2, resulting in widespread motorized access for recreation, creating extensive travel corridors for management actions and resource development, subsidizing predators adapted to human presence, and facilitating spread of exotic or invasive plants. Sagebrush lands also are being used for their wilderness and recreation values, including off highway vehicle use. Approximately 12,000,000 animal use months (AUM amount of forage to support one livestock unit per month) are permitted for grazing livestock on public lands in the western states. Direct effects of grazing on sage-grouse populations or sagebrush landscapes are not possible to assess from current data. However, management of lands grazed by livestock has influenced sagebrush ecosystems by vegetation treatments to increase forage and reduce sagebrush and other plant species unpalatable to livestock. Fences (2 km/km2 in some regions), roads, and water developments to manage livestock movements further modify the landscape. Oil and gas development influences 8% of the sagebrush habitats with the highest intensities occurring in the eastern range of sage-grouse; 20% of the sagebrush distribution is indirectly influenced in the Great Plains, Wyoming Basin, and Colorado Plateau SMZs. Energy development physically removes habitat to construct well pads, roads, power lines, and pipelines; indirect effects include habitat fragmentation, soil disturbance, and facilitation of exotic plant and animal spread. More recent development of alternative energy, such as wind and geothermal, creates infrastructure in new regions of the sage-grouse distribution. Land use will continue to be a dominant stressor on sage-brush systems; its individual and cumulative effects will challenge long-term conservation of sage-grouse populations.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2011
Title Ecological influence and pathways of land use in sagebrush
Authors Steven T. Knick, Steven E. Hanser, Richard F. Miller, David A. Pyke, Michael J. Wisdom, Sean P. Finn, E. Thomas Rinkes, Charles J. Henny
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70004646
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center