Bishop (California) Field Office

Census and habitat restoration, grazing management practices

Mono County is located on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, along the Nevada border. Sage-grouse conservation work is ongoing in parts of Long Valley, the Mono Basin, the Bodie Hills, and Fales/ Wheeler Flat. US Highway 395 runs along the western boundary of the area to the intersection with State Route 108 (Sonora Junction) 110 miles north of Bishop. Some of the habitat lies within Wilderness Study Areas in the Bodie Hills and Granite Mountain (Mono Basin) management areas.

Every year, the BLM coordinates a census of sage-grouse activity on all known leks in the area. An accompanying search for previously unknown leks turned up four new strutting grounds in April 2004 and another new lek in April 2006.

Telemetry data from radio-collared sage-grouse in the project area are collected, analyzed and entered into a GIS database along with GPS coordinates for other land features that affect habitat use, such as power lines and topography. Several hundred telemetry points are currently in the database, including information from 35 collared grouse in the Bodie Hills population.

Data on soils and vegetation from over 500,000 acres have been compiled in a Broad Scale Sagebrush Classification Map. Sampling assesses vegetation conditions in areas that sage-grouse use for various purposes, with special emphasis on nesting locations. Pinyon pine removal enhances vegetation conditions in breeding and nesting habitat. Cut pines were made available as Christmas trees in local communities.

The Bishop FO also maintains habitat improvement projects in occupied habitat. Some meadows preferred for foraging and brood-rearing underwent initial restoration in the late 1970s.

Annual monitoring of strutting grounds has been conducted since 1953 in Long Valley and the Bodie Hills, and on Fales/Wheeler Flat.

Restoration projects directly affecting the quality of sage grouse habitat were begun in the 1970s. Other projects were implemented in the following decades.

The Bishop FO undertook intensive assessment of individual sage grouse in 2000, and the U.S. Geological Survey began a second phase of radio telemetry in 2003 to build on data from previous studies.

Staff from the Bishop FO used this wealth of experience to play a central role in developing a sage-grouse conservation strategy for the Bi-State (California-Nevada) area.  Bi-State conservation planning was completed in 2004 and the first phase of implementation resulted in 600 acres of pinyon pine removed from lands adjacent to strutting grounds habitat in the Bodie Hills PMU.  Permanent road closures have occurred in the Long Valley near strutting ground and nesting habitat along with seasonal closures at three strutting grounds on BLM land in Long Valley.

In 2007, the California Department of Fish & Game has initiated a third phase of radio telemetry in Mono County.  The investigation will refine understanding of seasonal habitat use, sex- and age-specific movement patterns, home ranges, and population genetics.

The Bishop FO Resource Management Plan identifies several management decisions that affect sage-grouse and habitat quality. Salting and supplemental livestock feeding is prohibited within a quarter-mile of strutting grounds. Conditions of grazing leases also ensure that fences are not located on strutting grounds and that escape ramps are installed in livestock water troughs. Other decisions establish plant community goals for sage-grouse forage and cover requirements and prohibit camping within one-third of a mile of strutting grounds during breeding periods.

Other best management practices include leaving four to six inches of residual herbaceous stubble height on meadows and riparian sites at the end of a grazing period; locating any new livestock handling or management facilities outside riparian/wetland areas; developing water sources that maintain ecologic and hydrologic function and processes of the source; and setting maximum utilization of perennial key forage species at 40%.

Other agencies involved in the project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Forest Service (Inyo National Forest and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest), Natural Resources Conservation Service, California Department of Fish and Game, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada-California Bi-State Local Area Conservation Planning Group (a mix of federal, state and county agencies along with concerned interest groups and individuals including public land commodity producers), the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Mono County and Town of Mammoth Lakes, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Quail Unlimited.

Local BLM Contacts (Bishop Field Office): Terry Russi, (760) 872-5035 and Steve Nelson, (760) 872-5006