Wildlife| Greater sage-grouse Conservation
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Managing species 
in multiple-use landscapes

Portions of 14 Western states once provided year-round food, shelter and breeding grounds for the Greater sage-grouse.  Pressure from urbanization, wildfire, recreation, energy development, livestock grazing, invasive weeds and disease have shrunk these historical habitats, such that only portions of 11 states still have lands for the bird to call home.  As a result, their numbers have declined by about 40% since the 1970s.  As few as 200,000 may be left.

As manager of more remaining Greater sage-grouse habitat than any other government agency, the BLM is taking a coordinated, Bureau-wide approach to protecting intact habitat, avoiding or minimizing further habitat loss, and managing habitats to restore or maintain favorable conditions.

Good fences, good neighbors

For the BLM, conserving sage-grouse habitat takes place in the larger context of multiple use. The multiple use mandate in the BLM's organic act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), directs the BLM to manage areas of public land for more than one use unless specified otherwise by law.

On some acres of sage-grouse habitat that the BLM manages, this means that habitat conservation and restoration go on alongside or amid activities like recreation, energy development, and livestock grazing.

Structures built to manage some of these other activities can be obstacles for wildlife on the move.  Sage-grouse, for instance, may become snagged on wire livestock fences while trying to fly over.  This can result in direct mortality of individual birds and indirectly in habitat fragmentation that harms local populations and the entire species. 

Fortunately, fences can be modified to allow sage-grouse to steer clear.  Attaching tags or flags to some of the wires makes them more visible.  The marker shown middle-right is made from an undersill trim strip of vinyl house siding. 

Not every fence needs to be tagged.  Most collisions happen around breeding areas.  The birds' high fidelity to leks and nesting areas allows land managers to focus on marking nearby fences.  Data about migration patterns helps identify other sections of fence that might need marking.

The photo bottom-right shows a section of fence that has just been tagged with the undersill-style markers.  Click on the image to enlarge. 

A 2009 policy memorandum directs all BLM offices to incorporate fence-marking into plans for new fences and to retrofit existing fences as needed to help avert collisions.  New fences – including those for emergency stabilization and rehab – are to be placed sensibly, away from sites that sage-grouse frequent, as another means of reducing the risk of collision and entanglement.

The policy requires similar tagging on guy wires attached to wind energy turbines or meteorological (MET) towers placed on BLM-managed lands.

Monitoring fences after marking helps ensure that the measures are adequate.

a male-female pair of sage-grouse

unspooling smooth wire for range fence in Jarbidge Field Office, Idaho

Fencing for sage-grouse protection
Fencing for sage-grouse protection.  Photo by Jeremy Roberts

fence flag made from vinyl siding undersill trim

installing undersill markers to make a wire fence wildlife friendly

Last updated: 11-15-2012