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Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Demographic Response to Habitat Improvements
Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Demographic Response to Habitat Improvements

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Led By

Anthony D. Apa​ in collaboration with Dr. R. Scott Lutz and Rachel E. Harris (University of Wisconsin-Madison) 

Study Area

Moffat and Routt Counties

Project Status​​

In progress

Research Objectives

  • Ascertain the current baseline (before impact) demographic (age specific survival, nest success) a​nd spatial (home range and movements) parameters in existing non-native grass dominated communities (controls and treatments sites).

  • Ascertain the short-term (2 year) post-habitat enhancement, demographic (age specific survival, nest success), and spatial (home range and movements) parameters in non-native grass dominated communities and compare with treated sites.

  • Ascertain the long-term (5-7 year) post-habitat enhancement, demographic (age specific survival, nest success), and spatial (home range and movements) parameters in non-native grass dominated communities and compare with treated sites.

  • Research Hypothesis:  Increased structural and floristic diversity and species richness will improve nesting and brood-rearing habitat quality for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse resulting in a positive population growth rate influenced by increased nest success and adult, chick, and juvenile survival.

Project Description

The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (CSTG, Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) is one of 6 subspecies of sharp-tailed grouse in North America.  It occupies 10% of its former range.  Habitat loss and degradation from anthropogenic activities are cited as the primary reasons for its decline.  The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has been petitioned twice to list the CSTG for protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  ESA listing was, in part, not warranted because of CSTG range expansion facilitated by Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 1985 and subsequent reauthorizations.   The CSTG is a game species in Colorado, and is designated as a species of “state special concern.”  

The CSTG historically inhabited, and currently inhabits where available, native big sagebrush, mountain shrub, and shrub-steppe communities in western North America, but by the mid-1950’s to mid-1960’s many of the native sagebrush communities on private land were converted to agricultural production.  The 1985 Farm Bill provided an opportunity for private landowners to enroll highly erodible lands into the CRP.  Many CRP planting seed mixes included only 2-3 plant species and provides breeding, summer, and fall habitat.  These mixes resulted in herbaceous stands of grass that provide marginal benefits to CSTG.  Many CRP fields in Colorado once supported high quality habitat, but more recently have declined in quality.

Based on past research, and that some existing CRP habitats are not occupied by CSTG, there is building evidence that management efforts could improve existing or expired CRP and that habitat improvements could be beneficial for CSTG.  This has resulted in management recommendations to improve CRP quality by improving existing CRP that provides low quality CSTG nesting and brood-rearing habitat.

CSTG provide an opportunity to evaluate demographic rates and population growth to assess changes in habitat quality.  CSTG are a highly productive, generalist species that have centralized breeding locations and have limited movements during the breeding season with relatively small home ranges.  These life history traits and relatively small movements facilitate a relatively rapid response to habitat management, ultimately providing managers and researchers an opportunity to work collaboratively to investigate a mechanistic response to landscape level habitat quality improvement prescriptions.

Associated Publications

Apa, A. D., and R. E. Harris. 2016. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse demographic response to habitat improvements​. Progress Report, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Grand Junction, CO.​​

Apa, A.D. 2015. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse demographic response to habitat improvements. Project Proposal, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Grand Junction, CO.

Apa, A. D. 2013. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse chick and juvenile radio transmitter evaluation. Progress Report, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Grand Junction, CO.

Apa, A. D. 2014. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse chick and juvenile radio transmitter evaluation​. Progress Report, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Grand Junction, CO.

Apa, A. D. 2015. Columbian sharp-tailed grouse demographic response to habitat improvements. Progress Report, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Grand Junction, CO.​