Restoration for Sage Grouse Habitat Shown to Benefit At-Risk Songbirds

September 9, 2015 – Restoring habitat for sage grouse also helps many other sagebrush-dependent species, including two at-risk songbirds, according to a new report released today by the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI). SGI and IWJV sponsored study found that populations of Brewer’s sparrow and green-tailed towhee climbed significantly in places where invading conifer trees were removed in an effort to restore sagebrush habitat.

The study shows that three years following the removal of invading conifers in a project area in southern Oregon, the number of Brewer’s sparrows increased by 55 percent, while the number of green-tailed towhees increased by 81 percent, as compared with sites not restored. These two songbirds, both identified as species of conservation concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), serve as early indicators of the effectiveness of restoration work.

“This research shows that the comprehensive sagebrush conservation efforts, which are strengthening operations on working lands across the West, have benefits for all the wildlife that depend on the ecosystem, not just sage grouse,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “The Sage Grouse Initiative continues to demonstrate that by working together, we can deliver conservation that is good for wildlife, good for ranching operations and good for rural economies across the West. 

More than 350 species of wildlife depend on sagebrush habitat, and many species have suffered population declines because of threats like invading conifers. Conifers invade and degrade sagebrush ecosystems, dispersing the wildlife that once called the habitat home. Over the past two centuries, fire suppression, historic overgrazing and favorable climate conditions have led to spread of conifers into sagebrush habitat.

Aaron Holmes, director of Northwest Wildlife Science and a research associate with Point Blue Conservation Science, led the research for SGI, assessing the biological outcome of conifer cuts on songbirds in the Warner Mountains near Adel, Oregon.  The Bureau of Land Management, FWS, and IWJV, all of which are SGI partners, funded the study.

"I'm encouraged by how quickly these songbirds have reestablished on sites after juniper removal," said Todd Forbes, Field Manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Lakeview Oregon Resource Area. "This tells us that we're on the right track with this project and other similar projects across the west."

The new Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 strategy calls for an additional 246,000 acres of conifer treatment by 2018 throughout the West. Songbirds are not the only wildlife that will benefit from sage grouse conservation work, either. This previous Science to Solutions study on mule deer in Wyoming shows that conservation measures implemented to benefit sage grouse also doubled the protection of mule deer migratory corridors and winter range.

“The work of the Sage Grouse Initiative is more than a single species approach,” says Wendell Gilgert, Working Landscapes Program Director at Point Blue Conservation Science. “It’s an ecosystem approach that’s extremely necessary as conservationists look for solutions to balance the needs of wildlife and people in an uncertain future.”

Find the Science to Solution article on this study below.

Read the NRCS's press release on this study here.