BLM Logo
Glasgow Field Office
Release Date: 12/09/10
Contacts: Craig Flentie 406-538-1943    

BLM Sage Grouse Research

A unique graduate level research project being conducted near Glasgow, Montana, promises to provide much needed information about the preferred travel corridors, migrating patterns and habitat associations of greater sage-grouse.

Rebecca Smith (a wildlife biology Student Career Experience Program student with the BLM’s Glasgow Field Office) is conducting the research as she pursues a M.S. degree in wildlife biology. Rebecca graduated in the spring of 2010, with a B.S. in wildlife biology from the University of Montana (UM) and is now working toward a M.S. in wildlife biology, again with the UM.   Smith is a 2006 graduate of Fergus High School in Lewistown, Montana.

The population of sage-grouse Smith is studying in her research winters south of the Milk River in Valley County, and then migrates in the spring to brood-rearing grounds in north Valley County, Montana, and the eastern portion of the Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. This is the longest known sage grouse migration route used by sage-grouse (about 120 km, + - 75 miles).

There’s a great deal of information available about the habitats sage-grouse need, but relatively little is known about the migration corridors they use to move from one preferred habitat to another. What features or objects do sage-grouse try to avoid on their flight paths? What flight corridors do sage-grouse consistently use? 

Rebecca’s research project is designed to answer those questions which in turn, will help managers make land use decisions that do not cut off movement corridors used by sage-grouse and other migratory animals. This research project will also help determine more precisely when this group of sage-grouse begins their northward and southward migration flights.

The end results of this research will be a better understanding how sage-grouse use the landscape between summering and wintering grounds, and land use decisions that will help maintain important movement corridors for grouse.

This spring Rebecca and several assistants attached solar powered GPS transmitters to 24 sage-grouse (19 female and 5 males). Each camouflaged unit is about two inches long, is mounted on the grouse’s lower back and held in place by straps under the bird’s legs.   The GPS units are programmed to record the grouse’s location four times per day, without the challenges and costs associated with actively following the birds (as required by VHF transmitters). The recorded locations are then converted to a map format that shows precisely where each grouse is spending time.
The BLM, the UM, Parks Canada, and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are all participating in this research project.
Many stakeholders across the west are familiar with the problems faced by sage-grouse: habitat fragmentation (as man continues to build, till and develop); declining numbers on a national basis; and several years ago West Nile virus surfaced as a serious concern for sage-grouse. As a result of these issues, greater sage-grouse were recently declared warranted, but precluded from listing as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by the need to complete listing actions of higher priority.
In the face of these challenges it’s critical that land managers make the best decisions possible concerning sage-grouse, and those decisions depend upon the best information available. 
Next spring Smith’s research project is designed to have 40 sage-grouse carrying GPS units. Over the course of the next two years, this project will begin connecting the dots among what we know about sage grouse today, and what we need to know tomorrow.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Glasgow Field Office   5 Lasar Drive      Glasgow, MT 59230   

Last updated: 06-28-2012