Steven T. Knick
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Sagebrush Steppe Restoration from an Ecological Perspective: What Is Success and How Will We Know It?
Steven T. Knick, USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Boise, ID
The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act was greeted as a success by many individuals, groups, and agencies. The increased attention to sage-grouse as a result of the listing process highlighted the need for habitat restoration. Consequently, local, state, and national working groups developed management plans to improve sagebrush habitats. Subsequent opportunities, such as the National Healthy Lands Initiative, also are being developed to manage, restore, and conserve landscapes. The primary objective of these actions is ecological success. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Comprehensive Conservation Strategy states that their objective for success is to: “maintain and enhance populations and distribution of sage-grouse by protecting and improving sagebrush habitats and ecosystems that sustain these populations.” This deceptively simple definition masks a complex restoration challenge because most regions of the sagebrush biome have lost important components, have been invaded by new species, and have altered disturbance regimes.
How can we focus this activity into actions that restore sagebrush habitats? The ecological organization of sagebrush systems parallels management hierarchies. In sagebrush systems, individual sites interact with adjacent communities that together form components within a landscape. Landscapes then interact as part of a larger regional matrix. For sage-grouse, each of these components and levels are important. Similarly, we must address all levels if restoration is to be fully successful. At national levels, prioritizing efforts across regions could maximize limited resources. Within regions, coordinated site-specific actions conducted by local groups could avoid a checkerboard of unrelated efforts. The combined result of restoring individual sites ultimately will create functioning sagebrush landscapes. By focusing on each level in an integrated approach, we can restore sagebrush systems that maintain and enhance greater sage-grouse populations. We can achieve ecological success.