Sage Grouse: A Case for Progressive Range Management

Jason Pyron, Sage-Grouse coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Idaho, urged ranchers to be proactive in managing livestock on public lands to account for the needs of sage-grouse, a candidate species, and hopefully prevent a listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

Pyron addressed an audience of ranchers, land management agency officials and wildlife officials at the 2013 Intermountain Rangeland Livestock Symposium on Jan. 10. The event was co-sponsored by the University of Idaho and the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission.

“At the Fish and Wildlife Service, we have a passion for the sustainable management of rangelands,” Pyron said, noting that he grew up in a ranch environment near Mackay and Arco in Central Idaho.

More litigation and regulation may result in reduced flexibility in range management, and that would be unfortunate, he said.

Pyron encouraged ranchers to be proactive and closely monitor range conditions on public lands, and encourage Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management range conservationists to set up monitoring points as well.

“You need to know what kind of monitoring is going on, on your grazing allotment,” Pyron said. “You need to work with your public employees to set up monitoring points, or ranchers should do it on their own.”

Showing a slide of a public lands grazing area that had been overgrazed, Pyron said “Areas such as these, are bad for sage-grouse, rangeland health and sustainable livestock grazing. We can’t have these eye-sores anymore. Let’s get them fixed.”

Pyron said from the FWS perspective, the primary threats to sage-grouse are:

1. Loss and fragmentation of habitat from wildfires and large infrastructure development ;

2. A lack of regulatory mechanisms associated with these threats.

Wildfire has harmed sage-grouse habitat across large landscapes in Idaho, Pyron said. If wildfires wipe out sagebrush, it harms sage-grouse habitat because the birds are dependent on sagebrush for year-round survival. “We need to minimize these large fires across our public landscapes to help preserve sage-grouse habitat.”

Livestock grazing is considered to be a “secondary” threat to sage-grouse, he said. “There are localized management issues here and there, but these problems do not rise to the same level as infrastructure development and loss of habitat,” Pyron said.

As a general guideline, sage-grouse habitat needs include:

  • Sagebrush for nesting cover, hiding cover and winter food.
  • Grass cover under sagebrush bushes for spring nesting.
  • Insects to eat after young are born in brood-rearing areas. If these areas have been grazed recently before chicks hatch, they will be able to feed off the insects living in cow manure and other insects.
  • Open breeding areas known as leks.
  • Water. Small reservoirs for cattle can provide essential watering locations for sage-grouse.

For a more complete discussion about sage-grouse habitat needs, please see

Pyron encouraged ranchers to consider partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to do cost-share projects to eliminate juniper from encroaching on sage-grouse brood-rearing areas, which often are wet meadows. Private landowners and the BLM are working on juniper control. “We’re starting to make serious progress on that issue.”

He also endorsed the concept of rangeland fire protection associations, such as the one created by Mountain Home ranchers last year. Here’s a link to a video about that topic. “This is a great opportunity for landowners to protect their own property and BLM lands as well,” he said.

Pyron discussed possible opportunities for ranchers to improve livestock forage production as well as improve nesting habitat for sage-grouse.  The FWS is working to develop a program that would provide perennial grass seed for landowners and managers for this purpose.

Pyron indicated that permittees and range management professionals can hold each other accountable for positive progress on the land, saying “tough conversations must be encouraged”.

To contact Jason Pyron, call the Idaho Field Office of the FWS, 208-685-6958, or email him at