Sage Grouse Issues & Concerns
Habitat/Vegetation: Continued sagebrush loss is occurring due to the reduction or elimination for improved grazing lands, conversion to cropland acres, over-grazing that has occurred over the past century, and the effects of drought conditions. It will be important to document the sagebrush range through mapping efforts to assist with future sage grouse management and specific management practices.
Population Monitoring: Continued monitoring of sage grouse numbers is essential to future management plans and practices. Current method of monitoring includes spring lek surveys which focus on the number of displaying males. Considerations for future monitoring need to include multiple visits to leks, prioritization of leks to be counted, and exploration of existing and new leks established. Active leks need to be identified, along with associated habitats, and management plans developed to minimize disturbance or alterations to these areas.
Harvest Management: Due to continued declines in sage grouse numbers across its range, many individuals are concerned that hunting mortalities may be causing unnecessary harm to the population and negatively affecting the population status. Although the South Dakota season is very restrictive (2 days, 1 bird limit) and removes only a small percentage of the overall population, it will be important that monitoring remains in place and appropriate actions are implemented if proven necessary. Although a small sample size, annual harvest data does provide long term population structure information, as well as some recruitment statistics for any given year.
Grazing Management: Livestock grazing over the past two centuries has drastically altered the sagebrush range; in some cases eliminating sagebrush, other cases altering the plant composition, including the necessary under-story grass species and associated forbs. Although grazing can have positive effects, it will be imperative to apply grazing management which considers weather conditions such as drought so that these habitats are not adversely affected, and which also consider sage grouse in their grazing plan.
Disease: Over the past five years the prevalence of various diseases effecting gallinaceous species has become quite prominent; none more prominent than West Nile virus (WNv). Sage grouse have been identified to be highly susceptible to the WNv, causing high mortality rates in certain locations. It is of high importance that continued monitoring takes place and considered when making future management decisions.
Noxious Weeds/Invasive Plant: Herbicide use on noxious weeds is the most commonly used method for weed control on both private and public lands. Although effective at removing target plants, the indirect effects of removing desirable plants such as forbs that are necessary for sage grouse chick survival can be quite damaging.
Energy and Other Development: Continued energy exploration and development, accompanied by fragmentation created by roads and other barriers, are known to have negative impacts on sage grouse populations. Active lek sites and critical habitats should be identified and provided ample buffers to avoid negative disturbances.
Outreach and Education: Efforts to inform the public and landowners on the importance and management of sagebrush are critical in maintaining the sage grouse population. Increased collaboration between private, state, federal, and non-governmental agencies is essential, along with the dissemination of important information through public meetings and management-oriented pamphlets.