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Sage-grouse and Fire: Smokey the Bear was a Good Guy
Jack Connelly, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID
The Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) obligate that now occupies only 56% of its likely distribution prior to European settlement. Range-wide, populations have been declining at an average of 2.0% per year from 1965 to 2003. Concerns about declining sage-grouse populations coupled with information on habitat loss have prompted multiple petitions to list the species under the Endangered Species Act. Available evidence clearly supports the conclusion that conserving large landscapes with suitable habitat is important for conservation of sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligate species. Invasive plant species, wildfires, weather, and climate are major influences on sagebrush habitats and present a significant challenge to long-term conservation of sagebrush systems. Numbers of fires and total area burned have increased since 1980 throughout most sagebrush-dominated habitats. Recent research suggests that fires were much less frequent in sagebrush-dominated landscapes, especially in more xeric areas, than previously believed. The continued interest in prescribed burning and other forms of sagebrush reduction in sagebrush-dominated landscapes, despite a large body of evidence documenting the negative effects of these actions on sage-grouse, may continue to degrade and fragment sage-grouse habitats.