Friday, May 09, 2014

Public-private habitat ventures at risk as FWS weighs listing for sage grouse

More than 100 sage grouse have returned to this mating field, known as a lek, on Wes McStay's ranch near the Wyoming line for the annual springtime ritual known as "strutting." A handful of lucky males will impregnate nearly all of the hens. But it's not the rye field that attracts these birds as much as the plentiful sagebrush, forbs and wet meadows that surround it. Sagebrush and native grasses hide the birds from predators and protect them from next winter's snow. Forbs and insects provide a buffet for newly hatched chicks. "The lek site is simply the dance floor," said Luke Schafer, the West Slope advocacy director for Conservation Colorado. "It's the habitat within 4 miles of that lek that matters." To a large extent, the efforts of ranchers like McStay will determine whether the bird receives protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Interior Department faces a court-ordered deadline of September 2015 to decide. While more than half of the remaining sage grouse habitat is on federal lands, more than 30 percent of it is on private lands where farmers and ranchers are pursuing habitat protections with money and technical assistance from the Agriculture and Interior departments. Others in Colorado are pursuing a habitat credit exchange where oil and gas and other energy developers agree to pay landowners to offset harm to sage grouse. McStay said he rotates his cows' grazing areas to ensure vegetation has a chance to recover for birds and other native wildlife. He participates in the Department of Agriculture's conservation stewardship program, which helps agricultural producers maintain and improve their existing conservation systems, and he has also supported a study with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to collar and track sage grouse on his ranch. At the neighboring 16,000-acre Bord Gulch Ranch, manager Ray Owens has installed miles of wildlife-friendly fences that allow passage of elk, prevent collisions for sage grouse and reduce perches for predatory birds. He has also installed 80 stock water tanks to distribute its cows more evenly across the landscape, relieving stress for pastures and riparian areas to grow native bunch grass that sage grouse need for cover...more

No comments: