Integrating Birds in Range Management across the Sagebrush Steppe

2014 Annual Report for EW12-009

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $60,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Laura Quattrini
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (dba Bird Conservancy of the Rockies)

Integrating Birds in Range Management across the Sagebrush Steppe


Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory held four “Sagebrush Dependent Birds and Management Actions” workshops in spring 2014. We presented to nearly 130 resource professionals from BLM, NRCS, USFS, Conservation Districts, Extension agents, non-profits, state wildlife agencies and a handful of landowners. Overall workshop evaluations rated the quality of the presentations at a 4.14 out of 5.0 and the usefulness of the information presented at a 3.91 out of 5.0. Participants also gave feedback on the usefulness of the Decision Support Tool (DST) we had created thus far. This has all been incorporated into the most recent prototype of the DST for which a user-friendly web interface is being developed by a group at Penn State University. RMBO had 500 “Voices of Sagebrush Birds” CD created, of which half have been dispersed. We continually fulfill requests for the “Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Birds” and have given out approximately 1,300 this past year. The “Integrating Bird Conservation into Sagebrush Management” manual is behind schedule, however it is progressing and project it will be completed in 2015. By working with other partners on a sagebrush obligate (dependent) bird mini-strategy we’ve learned many tools are available for resource professionals to use when making management decisions. As such, we will incorporate partner resources into the manual as well. Finally, RMBO works with partners at various levels. We attend national partner meetings intended to share what everyone is doing for conservation efforts. We provide trainings at a regional and local level to raise awareness for the birds and their habitat needs and tools that are available to help make decisions. We also have Private Lands Biologists who work with other resource professionals in developing conservation plans and habitat projects for on-the-ground management. Our goal is to raise awareness for at-risk bird species and their habitat needs so that conservation efforts are incorporated into land management decisions ultimately stabilizing or increasing the population trends of these bird species.

Objectives/Performance Targets


The critical first step toward conservation of sagebrush obligate birds is raising awareness of resource managers and private landowners about the birds and their habitat requirements. In the short-term this will be indicated by the number of resource professionals and landowners we reach, how they evaluate the training sessions, sagebrush manual, and Decision Support Tool (DST). The number of additional pocket guides, CDs, and training manuals we distribute, and the number of ‘hits’ our DST receives online will also be metrics of success. Awareness can also be measured by the number of landowners enrolling in sagebrush habitat enhancement projects – the more landowners enrolling, the more landowners whose awareness is being focused on wildlife on their properties.


Integrating birds into range management and monitoring prescriptions will help improve range and sagebrush health and the economic base of private lands. After the trainings, with time and experience, land managers and landowners will become increasingly proficient at identification of bird species and understanding of what their presence means. There will be better appreciation and understanding of the diversity of habitat needs of birds in the sagebrush system. This will lead to a positive shift in land managers’ behavior and the right practices will be put in the right places to benefit agricultural producers and to forward sagebrush conservation and ultimately reverse declining population trends avoiding the need for USFWS regulation. Avian population trends will continually be tracked through time by RMBOs avian monitoring team and other partners.


“Sagebrush Dependent Birds and Management Actions” Trainings:

Four workshops were completed in CO, WY, and MT (Figure 1). The purpose of the workshops was to:

  • Increase awareness for Sagebrush Obligate Songbirds (SOBs), identification and habitat needs,
  • Introduce, and solicit feedback on a prototype Decision Support Tool (DST) which will help predict outcomes of habitat enhancement and restoration on SOBs populations, and
  • Introduce information to influence future management decisions for multiple bird species.

RMBO presented to almost 130 people from BLM (27.5%), NRCS (15.8%), state natural resource agencies (15.7%), non-profits (7.2%), Energy corporations (6.4%), Fish & Wildlife Service (5.9%), USFS (5.3%), private consultants (5.3%), University (student and employee; 4.9%), Conservation Districts (3%), and a handful of landowners. We gave an overview of RMBO’s monitoring program (Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions) and how that data is used to build bird-habitat relationship models. We discussed the ecology of birds and how our bird-habitat relationship models are correlated with different species. We covered how to identify each in the field and gave an informational presentation on RMBO’s Avian Data. We concluded the workshops with an overview of how we are building the DST and used the opportunity to assist with our structured decision making process of the adaptive management framework we are using to develop the DST. This method requires stakeholder involvement and objective setting with the understanding, in our case, that sage-steppe landscapes are working rangelands and there is a need for balanced management for numerous stakeholders. Ultimately, we want to ensure that stakeholder conservation and socio-economic concerns are addressed. This process was initiated with our on-line survey (reported on in our 2013 annual report) in which we were able to focus the DST on to the interests of the survey participants.

Audio CDs of Sagebrush bird calls and songs:

Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology developed and made 500 CDs for RMBO. We’ve distributed about 225 of these at the workshops and other outreach opportunities.

Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Birds:

We continuously get requests for this guide. During the past year we’ve dispersed approximately 1,300 guides.

Manual Development:

The person who we sub-contracted out to had personal emergency so had to terminate work on the manual. We have been working on the manual in-house – specifically the species accounts, population statuses, species habitat needs, discussion with partners on inclusion of other management tools available to include in the manual. We are now looking to another potential contractor to finish the manual.

Decision Support Tool status:

The prototype of the tool is nearly complete and should be finished by February 2015. This version incorporates stakeholder input from the discussions and surveys generated at the workshops. RMBO is currently working with a group at Penn State University to develop the web-interface of the DST which will incorporate a mapping feature for each user to zoom in to areas of interest. While that is being developed the prototype will be further adapted to the ecological sites we’ve determined to be most important within the eastern part of sagebrush range. Based on this we estimate it will take another 3-4 months to finish this web-based user-friendly tool.

Partnerships/ Raising awareness:

  1. RMBO Habitat Conservation: In June 2014, our four sage PLWBs reported seven projects (EQIP, SGI, and CTA) approved to enhance nearly 42,000 acres of habitat. These four PLWBs have another 15 projects pending that will enhance over 88,000 acres. Many of these projects were done in tandem with other partners including USFWS – Partners for Fish & Wildlife, State agencies, private landowners, local entities, and other non-profit organizations.
  2. Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center: While not included in our original SARE proposal, we believe the Avian Data Center ( can be an important tool for other resource professionals in learning more about avian species. It is the storing house for avian information collected by RMBO and our collaborators in the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and Intermountain West. It is a “one-stop” data center for current data, results, methods, and materials produced and/or collected by RMBO and our collaborators. Much of this information is available to the public, land managers, and resource professionals. The goal is by sharing what we have learned it encourages others to join in bird and habitat conservation. It is another tool that resource professionals can use to learn about what research and monitoring projects RMBO and partners are doing and how it might relate to their areas of interest. This past year RMBO gave one presentation to USFS Region 2 Biologists (~60 people), two webinar trainings (50 participants) to help make others aware of this information resource, and included a training in the four workshops provided through this SARE grant.
  3. RMBO Partner Biologists (four working in the sagebrush landscape): Four RMBO Sage-grouse Private Lands Wildlife Biologists (PLWB) have been reaching out to landowners and doing one-on-one landowner visits. Since the beginning of April the PLWBs did 94 visits with different ranches to discuss potential habitat enhancement projects and assist them with applying for various conservation funding sources. Oftentimes, these visits are done in partnership with other agencies. The landowner visits are a great opportunity for resource professionals to share their expertise with each other and the landowners.
  4. Meetings attended: The Executive Director, Stewardship Director, Science Director, and Biometrician have all attended meetings and had conversations to build and maintain partnerships with various agencies and organizations for this project.
  • Pavlacky, D. C., Jr., D. J. Hanni, and S. Gallagher.  September 2014.  Integrating monitoring data and ecological site descriptions to achieve multi-species bird conservation in working landscapes.  Annual meeting of American Ornithologists’ Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, and Society of Canadian Ornithologists.  Estes Park, Colorado, USA
  • Executive Director visited with Assistant Chief of NRCS and Under Secretary Bonnie about the DST, the initiative and need for measures of success for the sagebrush obligate suite of birds in September in Washington, D.C.
  • Executive Director visited with Audubon of the Rockies and World Wildlife Fund about the DST and modeling a similar effort in the grasslands.
  • Executive Director presented to the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture in April about our monitoring program and the ability to develop decision support tools was discussed.
  • Stewardship Director and the SGI SWAT biologists attended the SGI workshop in Twin Falls, ID
  • Stewardship Director leads the IWJV Colorado State Conservation Partnership meetings
  • RMBO visited with WY Game and Fish Department in April about our monitoring, stewardship, and education efforts and the DST was discussed as well.
  • Science biologist presented the DST and Avian Data Center to the Wyoming and Central Mountains and Plains Joint Wildlife Society meeting and to all USFS Region 2 biologists in a webinar in April.
  • RMBO has been conference calling with IWJV and other partners to develop a Sage Obligate Outreach Strategy that will raise awareness of managers about at-risk birds and their habitat requirements and communicate recent investments in planning tools and how to use them (see below).
  1. Sage obligate tool mini-strategy: With assistance from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation contract we have contracted out Ashley Anne Dayer, an affiliate of Intermountain West Joint Venture, to help develop this strategy in association with other conservation partners. Because several spatial planning tools and management resources exist to identify beneficial conditions for sage obligate species, practices to improve these conditions, and best places to undertake sagebrush management activities to conserve the sagebrush ecosystem partners would like to ensure that the potential users (such as resource professionals) are aware of these tools, how to use them, and the benefits of their use. The goals of the mini-strategy are to 1) Raise the awareness of resource managers, other conservation partners, and to a lesser extent private landowners, about at-risk sagebrush birds and their habitat requirements so they will integrate sagebrush and sagebrush-steppe conservation measures into their land management actions, conservation programs, and habitat priorities, and 2) Ensure resource managers and other partners are aware of tools and how to use them (e.g. Avian Knowledge Network, e-bird data/breeding bird data, HABPOPS, RMBO’s Decision Support Tool, & IWJV Sage Grouse Core Area Conservation Strategy-Potential Impact to Sagebrush Obligates). The strategy is currently being completed. Ashley will assist RMBO compile descriptions of the tools for inclusion in our “Integrating Bird Conservation into Sagebrush Management” manual.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Trainings – nearly 150 were in attendance at all four meetings.

During the workshops we showcased the DST – what information is included in it, how it works, and what information it gives a user. This resulted a group conversation in which workshop participants provided constructive criticism about the tool.  They discussed with each other why aspects of the tool did and didn’t work or make sense. In addition, we provided surveys for them to answer specific questions related to the tool. For example, if we have to put a habitat variable into different percentage bins, what numbers make sense.   We collected feedback about what would make the DST most beneficial and functional in the landscapes where these partners work which has been incorporated into the tool.

Participants also evaluated the workshops and the usefulness of the information (Table 1). Overall the workshops scored a 3.91 out of 5.0 for the information being useful to the participants. Individual topic scores were greatest for avian ecology and ID (4.41 / 5.0) which indicates resource professionals are interested in learning more about sagebrush obligate bird species. Topic scores were lowest for the DST overview and discussion (3.2 / 5.0). This actually was as expected due to these workshop sections being focused more on their feedback on the DST to us. In some verbal conversations after the workshops as well as written comments on the evaluation, many of the participants were very appreciative of us getting their feedback for the development of the DST – all expressed how important that would be for building a tool that will work well.


Pat Deibert
National Sage-grouse Coordinator
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
5353 Yellowstone Rd. Suite 308A
Cheyenne, WY 82009
Office Phone: 3077722374
San Stiver
Sage-grouse Coordinator
Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies
2184 Richard St.
Prescott, AZ 86301
Office Phone: 9284435158
Wendell Gilgert
Working Landscape Program Director
PRBO Conservation Science
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11
Petaluma, CA 94954
Office Phone: 7077812555
Tammy VerCauteren
Executive Director
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory
230 Cherry Street
Fort Collins, CO 80521
Office Phone: 9704821707
Summer Olsen
Outreach Coordinator
Sagebrushe Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project
Utah State University
5215 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322-5215
Office Phone: 4357978455
Geoffrey Walsh
Wildlife Biologist/Migratory Bird Liaison
Bureau of Land Management
20 M Street, S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Office Phone: 2029127271
James Pauley
Chief Financial Officer
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory
P.O. Box 1232
Fort Collins, CO 80601
Office Phone: 3036594348
Danielle Flynn
National Biologist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
14th and Independence Ave, SW
Room 6158-S
Washington, DC 20250
Office Phone: 2026900856