Balancing acts : Risks & rewards

Greater sage-grouse are vulnerable during the four weeks when eggs are in the nest and the days right after hatching. Females are focused on keeping eggs sheltered and warm, and only leave the nest once or twice a day for food and bio breaks. 

If the canopy of sagebrush over the nesting site is not thick enough, a nest is at higher risk of being spotted from above or sniffed out at ground level by predators that are among the more than 350 other species native to sagebrush habitats. 

A young coyote trots in sagebrush
The prairie and mountain subspecies of coyote have wide ranges
that encompass sagebrush lands and diverse diets that can include
greater sage-grouse eggs, chicks and adults. | USFWS / Tom Koerner

In healthy habitat, sage-grouse can be shielded from predators like badgers, coyotes, golden eagles and other raptors. Ample native vegetation also guards against the heavy steps of elk, deer, pronghorn or livestock that may be in the area.  

Things work differently when predators like foxes, skunks and ravens follow human activity into sagebrush areas they couldn't otherwise access. Roads, powerlines and other structures bring sage-grouse nests into the reach of these novel predators. Altered vegetation can also force hens to go farther from their nests to find something to eat, leaving eggs untended for longer periods of time. 

a raven takes flight from a fencepost
Ravens keenly observe nesting hens' movements off their nests, which tend to happen at the same
times each day, to learn when eggs might be unguarded. | BLM-Oregon/Washington / Greg Shine

Stopping the decline of sage-grouse populations cannot be achieved solely by reducing or removing predators. The BLM manages wildlife habitat and does not have authority to undertake or require direct actions to control predators that live alongside sage-grouse on public lands. 

Moreover, science shows that predator control measures are less effective than conserving sagebrush habitat and managing other uses of the land to avoid introducing novel predators. 

eight hatched sage-grouse eggs in a nest
In this nest eight eggs were kept safe from predation through four weeks' incubation. | University of Wyoming

Healthy habitat allows enough chicks to mature and stabilize population numbers without the need for predator control that would further disrupt the natural balance. 

a biologist holds a day-old sage-grouse chick
Day-old chicks like this one weigh about an ounce (27 grams). | BLM-Utah / David Dahlgren

GET INVOLVED | The BLM has proposed a range of options for strengthening protection of sagebrush habitat on public lands while continuing responsible uses, to benefit wildlife and Western economies. Review and comment on the draft environmental analysis of habitat management options through June 13, 2024. 


Heather Feeney, Public Affairs Specialist

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