Landscape Collaborative Grazing and Greater Sage Grouse Survival

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $339,552.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Bok Sowell
MSU- Animal & Range Sciences

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, range improvement, stocking rate
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management

    Proposal abstract:

    The purpose of this project is to examine the direct effects of cattle grazing on sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat, nesting success, hen survival and brood survival in the Centennial Valley of Montana. The decline of sage-grouse over the years has been attributed to cattle grazing, even though several reviewers have stated there are no controlled, replicated studies which have examined this relationship. If the sage-grouse is listed as a Threatened or Endangered Species, it will have a large impact on livestock grazing across the western United States, since it is the most dominant land use. This study would be the only one to provide reliable information on this subject. The primary opportunity of the proposed project is the ability to coordinate broad-scale grazing management across mixed ownership in a replicated study, without sacrificing the economic viability of the producers. While many techniques have been studied in relationship to sage-grouse, the work is often at the pasture- or lek-scale. Wambolt et al. (2002) concluded that most of the data available for livestock grazing and sage-grouse has not examined the direct effects of grazing. They further stated that there were no replicated studies that have tested this idea. This project will test the direct effects of grazing on sage-grouse habitat, nesting success, hen survival and brood survival. Understanding how grazing management affects sage-grouse survival will be important to increasing sage-grouse populations. Grazing practices will occur on land owned by cooperating producers and leased from public agencies. The reason there have not been any similar studies is because most producers are reluctant to accept the financial risk without the assurance of positive outcomes. All three producers of our Project Team are interested in the scientific research and will be integral to the success of the program. Results from this study should provide information that can be used to manage sage-grouse habitat with grazing livestock. This information will be shared throughout the western United States and has a greater chance of being adopted if livestock producers know that ranchers were equal partners in this project.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Organize annual meetings of Project Team, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks (MFWP), BLM and NRCS representatives for the life of the project and discuss objectives and milestones for upcoming year.

    2. Recruit graduate students.

    3. Capture 25 - 50 female birds on two leks and attach collars (25 - 50 birds total). Test tracking equipment. Winter Year 1.

    4. Measure sagebrush cover and herbaceous cover in areas before cattle are introduced. Spring Year 1.

    5. Measure herbaceous vegetation use every 3-4 days during grazing period.

    6. Impose grazing treatments in areas with highest bird densities (two controls and two grazing treatments)

    7. Measure sagebrush cover and herbaceous cover at the nest. Spring Year 1.

    8. Temporary fence for grazed pastures to match new bird locations.

    9. Measure nesting success in grazed and control areas. Spring Year 1

    10. Determine juvenile survival of broods in both treatments. Summer Year 1

    11. Determine hen survival through the first growing season of each treatment.

    12. Analyze data from first year.

    13. Capture more birds in second winter to replace lost collars and birds.

    14. Complete annual report and share through MSU, SGI initiative network (SGI website, NRCS staff, NRCS publications), Centennial Valley Association (CVA) websites, Dillon Area Sage-grouse Local Working Group (LWG) meeting, and the Conservancy website.

    15. Host a seasonal field day in the summer.

    16. Repeat objectives 1-14 for the second year.

    17. Write extension publication explaining results to producers and track distribution.

    18. Produce online video which explains the study and track “Views.”

    19. Write scholarly publications including thesis (2) and scientific publications (2).

    20. Host final field day for producers in Dillon to inform all producers about results and suggestions.

    21. Share the report and results through MSU, SGI initiative network, NRCS staff, NRCS publications, CVA websites, LWG meeting, and the Conservancy website.

    22. Submit final report.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.