Development Effecting Grouse Habitat Selection

The human induced modification of shrub-steppe grasslands to farmland for forming crops in Washington has resulted in a negative inhabitance response from two native grouse species; Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and Columbian sharpe-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus). The decline in grouse inhabitance is not only isolated to Washington, but there has been a 56% decline in North America and parts of Canada.

The disruption of grouse habitat selection is staggering because the various subspecies of grouse populations have actually been known to have no problem living in close proximate to humans. When the botanical make up of forests are kept in a juvenile state grouse populations thrive. In the spring grouse feed on leaves, fruits, and insects. Once winter arrives their main food source is flower buds. If plant life in the forests are left to mature the protective and food resources of grouse species dwindle. Small scale clear-cut logging and fires tend to be benefitial to grouse populations. The grouse would rather live in these constantly disturbed areas, than remote wilderness forests that are allowed to hit maturity.

The act of small scale clear-cutting is of no concern to these populations. What is concerning is the developmental practices being perpetuated in the United States when it comes to agricultural growth. Since certian sub-species of grouse are not protected under the Endangered Species Act it was easy for mining, energy, and farmining companies to continue development into the west. Consequently, the shrub-steppe communites have become among the most critically endangered ecosystem in North America.

The social behavior of grouse usually keep them in solitary conditions. The males express behavior that is aggressively territorial. Greater sage-grouse and Columbian sharpe-tailed grouse naturally inhabit both non-overlapping and overlaping geographic areas, but because of human development the two species overlap in less than 10% of the ranges they formally inhabit. Although weather trends may be attributed to the “cycle” of abundance between the species studies are showing that human development of agricultural land is having a devastating effect on these populations.  That is why it is important that research continues to study the life-histories of different species to effectively conserve these communities.

Since research is demonstrating the decline of grouse populations state and government agencies in the United States, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM), have made efforts to restore and produce habitats for the reintroduction of grouse. The BLM has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Services to conteract this development and support wildlife, ranching, and other traditional land use while conservine sagebrush habitats.

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