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August 2007

Volume 3, Issue 3


The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) entered into a cooperative agreement with Utahs Community-Based Conservation Program (CBCP) in 2006 to have CBCP staff coordinate and facilitate the development of a statewide conservation plan for Gunnisons and white-tailed prairie dogs. Across their range, both Gunnisons and whitetailed prairie dogs have declined in number and distribution due to impacts from plague, habitat conversion, and habitat disturbance. As a result, environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list these species on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Utah, and several other western states, have engaged in planning for these species. In Utah, the result is a Draft Gunnisons White-tailed prairie dogs and White-tailed Prairie Dog Conservation Plan. The goal of the plan is to maintain or increase the viability of GPD and WTPD populations and sagesteppe and prairie ecosystems they inhabit in Utah to DRAFT PRAIRIE DOG PLAN AVAILBLE contribute to precluding the need to list these species. In REVIEW....................................1 addition because of their keystone species status, factors impacting GPDs and WTPDs will also impact associated FIRE IN SAGEBRUSH: FRIEND OR species; conservation actions, when applicable, will also FOE?....................................1,3 be designed to benet associated species. WILDFIRES CAN DESTROY SAGEThe draft plan is now available for review and comment. In addition, CBCP staff will be visiting affected counties GROUSE HABITAT..........................2 to present the plan at public meetings. Please visit www. A FEW GOOD NOSES: UCWF to review the plan and view the public review HELPS TO ANSWER RESEARCH QUESprocess schedule to nd out when meetings are being held TION.......................................3 in your area.




After a major re year like we have experienced in the west, we are all asking ourselves: What affect does this have on sagebrush and what role did re have in sagebrush systems prior to European settlement? Several researchers have identied re return intervals from pre-European times, but the literature is still quite divided. Some would argue that re is part of the natural disturbance cycle of sagebrush communities, while others believe sagebrush (continued on page 3)




Extreme wildres can destroy sage-grouse habitat when large areas of sagebrush are consumed during a re. Throughout their life cycle, sage-grouse use a variety of plant communities typically composed of moderate amounts of sagebrush and a healthy mix of forbs and grasses. Sagebrush is used by the birds as protective cover from predators while rearing their young on high protein insects, grasses and forbs. High intensity range res often remove the majority of vegetation and sterilize the soil. Following intense res, invasive annual weeds such as cheatgrass take advantage and eventually dominate these open landscapes. Once established, cheatgrass will increase the susceptibility of a landscape to future res unless expensive restoration efforts are undertaken. Although res in spring and early summer may kill individual sage-grouse unable to escape the blaze, the real threat to population survival occurs in the years following re due to the long-term loss of breeding, nesting, and brood rearing habitats. The Bureau of Land Management and other land management agencies are undertaking efforts to restore and maintain healthy sagebrush ecosystems. Preventative fuels reduction treatments reduce the risk of large wildres by providing fuelbreaks which can be used by reghters to quickly contain small wildres before they grow large. These fuelbreaks can be formed by clearing or thinning vegetation along roads or planting re resistant vegetation strips in thick continuous fuels such as sagebrush. These efforts will ultimately pay for themselves by reducing future re suppression costs and reducing the size of individual res that threaten sage-grouse habitat. Not all res are harmful to sagebrush ecosystems. Small, low intensity res may help to create new habitat by thinning or opening small gaps in sagebrush stands that are currently too thick for the birds to use as habitat. These cool burning res dont kill the dormant seed in the soils; therefore, vegetation may naturally recover after a low intensity re. Fuels reduction treatments and the proper use of prescribed re are tools that will help maintain and restore healthy sage-grouse habitat and other important components of rangeland ecosystems. Eric LaMalfa is a contributing writer with the Bureau of Land Management, Salt Lake Field Ofce.

Not all res are harmful to sagebrush ecosystems. The Bureau of Land Management prescribed this re for Sage Creek in Rich County. Range Conservationists report that the vegetation has naturally recovered.




Over the past 10 years, six students from Utah State University have been studying sage-grouse on Parker Mountain. In 2004, those students teamed up with 16 dogs to survey 1,600 acres of sagebrush treated with three different methods (Dixie harrow, Lawson aerator, and Spike). Why? In 2000-2001, 16 plots, each 100 acres, were treated with one of the different techniques in an effort to experimentally test their impact on sage-grouse brood rearing habitat. The treatments took place on Parker Mountain in an area used by sage-grouse broods, but the mountain big sagebrush cover exceeded guidelines for brood-rearing habitat prior to treatment. Early on, a two-dog team was used to help survey the plots, specically to count grouse and their broods. Soon, however, a problem became evident. Using only two dogs, it took a week to cover all of the plots and there were concerns the same birds were being counted day after day, in different plots. The solution: to sample all 16 plots at the same time. The new problem: where to nd an army of 16 dogs and 16 handlers to complete a survey of all plots simultaneously? Enter the Utah Chuckar and Wildlife Foundation (UCWF). Established in 2004, UCWF is a non-prot group of upland bird hunters dedicated to increase populations of upland game and other wildlife on public lands. On an early morning in 2004, 16 UCWF members and their dogs simultaneously roamed the study plots, ushing 121 sage-grouse. Earlier that month, 120 sage-grouse were counted using the original, two-dog, multi-day method. Testing the two techniques proved a great aid to sage-grouse research on Parker Mountain and the unique partnership formed with UCWF a great asset; UCWF has been participating in bird-dog surveys on Parker Mountain every year since. Thanks to all the dogs and handlers for their assistance in furthering upland game research and conservation in Utah!

Utah Chuckar and Wildlife Foundation bird dogs the morning of the survey.


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communities evolved with little inuence from wildre. This debate is not likely to end any time soon, but range and wildlife managers need to have some consensus so they can make management decisions. The importance of re in sagebrush ecosystems depends largely on the species of sagebrush present. There is some consensus among researchers that in some sagebrush communities re was more frequent, while in others it was almost nonexistent. So where is re appropriate, or how much re is appropriate? For example; in a Wyoming big sagebrush stand in West Box Elder County with an elevation of 4,500 ft in a 8-inch precipitation zone, re is not a feasible management option. Wyoming sagebrush communities have been shown to recover very slowly from re if they ever do. Wyoming sagebrush communities have a mean re return interval of 30-100 years. In addition, most Wyoming sagebrush communities are prime candidates for cover type conversions from a sagebrush dominated community to a community dominated by cheatgrass. In contrast, a mountain big sagebrush community in Strawberry Valley with an elevation of 8,500 feet in a 16-22 inch precipitation zone, where cheatgrass is non-existent may offer an opportunity for using prescribed re to improve habitat. Fire in some sagebrush communities is important because it removes conifers (pinyon, juniper and douglas r), regenerates aspen stands, and creates heterogeneity across the landscape by producing patches of different age classes of sagebrush. So, the answer to our original question of whether re is a friend or foe to sagebrush communities is that it depends. Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether re has a place in a particular sagebrush community. 1) What type of sagebrush community is it? 2) What role does re play in the community? 3) How large of an area should be burned? 4) What is the outcome from a re likely to be? 5) Does the predicted outcome of the re meet management goals and objectives?

So, the answer to our original question of whether re is a friend or foe to sagebrush communities is that it depends.



Utahs Community-Based Conservation Program Utah State University 4900 Old Main Hill Logan, Utah 84322-4900

If its not good for communities, its not good for wildlife.
Utahs Community-Based Conservation Program Mission

Utahs Community-Based Conservation Program is dedicated to promoting natuConservation has been dened as the highest and best use of our natural and hural resource management education and man resources. We in the CBCP argue that the only way we will truly achieve conservafacilitating cooperation between local communities and natural resource man- tion in this country is through open dialogue. Dialogue increases awareness and enhancagement organizations and agencies. es appreciation, the rst step in conservation. This dialogue however must incorporate a

Community-Based Conservation Program Opinion: Common Language Through Ecological Site Descriptions

common language to facilitate understanding. Range and wildlife managers agree that peer-reviewed science should be used to make informed decisions about land-use. Unbiased science should also provide the necessary information for management direction to be improved over time (adaptive management). In the case of sage-grouse conservation, the science and management Utah State University employees and students cannot, because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or veterans community must do a better job of monitoring populations and habitats if we are to betstatus, refuse to hire; discharge; promote; demote; terminate; discriminate in compensation; or discriminate regarding terms, privi- ter understand how management affects the species. However, a major factor impeding leges, or conditions of employment, against any person otherwise qualied. Employees and students also cannot discriminate in the the range and wildlife community dialogue on these issues has been the lack of common classroom, residence halls, or in on/off campus, USU-sponsored events and activities. terminology and ecological denominators. One way to address this impediment may be through the use of ecological site This publication is issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the descriptions. These descriptions being developed by the Natural Resources ConservaU.S. Department of Agriculture, Noelle Cockett, Vice President for Extension and Agriculture, Utah State University. tion Service (NRCS), the Bureau of Land Management and others replaces the traditional range site descriptions that focused primarily on forage production in favor descriptions that include vegetation dynamics and broader resource uses and values. This October (22-25) the Western Governors Association, NRCS, the Society for Range Management, the Wildlife Society, and others are planning a workshop in Park City, Utah designed to bring together range and wildlife communities to focus on creating a common conservation metric ecological site descriptions to guide sage-grouse conservation. As more details of this workshop are available we will provide them. We see this type of united approach to conservation as an essential step to enhance range wide efforts to conserve both human and wildlife resources.
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