Rio Blanco Co.
Field data collection is complete. Data analysis and preparation of manuscripts for publication is on-going.
- Assess the effectiveness, magnitude, and timing of sage-grouse response to removal of encroaching pinyon-juniper
- Test the importance of landscape-scale habitat features in determining success of pinyon-juniper removal
- Test winter track and pellet surveys as a methods for assessing changes in use by sage-grouse
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been working with industry and landowners to research ways to manage habitat and maintain healthy greater sage-grouse populations in the face of both pinyon-juniper expansion and increasing energy development. Rapidly expanding energy development over the past decade has raised concerns about the impact of habitat loss in the Parachute-Piceance-Roan (PPR) population of greater sage-grouse in NW Colorado. The PPR population is also thought to have lost habitat over the past century due to upslope encroachment of pinyon-juniper onto sagebrush-dominated ridges and plateaus. However, removing encroaching pinyon-juniper may allow us to expand suitable habitat and thereby offset anticipated impacts of energy development. Pinyon-juniper removal projects have been widely implemented across the western U.S. to increase suitable habitat for sage-grouse, but how sage-grouse respond to removals is poorly studied.
In 2008, Colorado Parks and Wildlife partnered with industry, the Bureau of Land Management, and private landowners on a multi-year research project to experimentally test how quickly and successfully greater sage-grouse habitat could be restored in the PPR by removing sparse pinyon-juniper trees from areas otherwise dominated by sagebrush. Annual surveys for sage-grouse pellets began on nine study plots in 2008 and expanded to 23 study plots in 2010. All study plots were on ridges dominated by sagebrush. Of those, about one-third were reference plots that lacked pinyon-juniper encroachment, one-third (976 acres total) were treated plots where pinyon-juniper was removed part-way through the study, and the remaining third were untreated plots where pinyon-juniper was left standing for the duration of the study. Pellet surveys were conducted in summer from 2008-2015. An increase in sage-grouse pellet counts within 4-5 years of pinyon-juniper removal was documented on only 2 of 8 treated plots. Because of the mixed success of pinyon-juniper removals to date, we plan to test the effectiveness of other types of habitat treatments as part of a cooperative study between industry, private landowners, and the Bureau of Land Management starting in 2017.