A new study suggests creating livable habitat for the dwindling sage grouse may be trickier than originally thought.
Wildfires have been tearing through the bird's territory in the West. Now, federal researchers find even 20 years after a fire, the ecology is still not up to sage grouse standards.
Sage grouse, as their name suggests, like sagebrush. They eat the shrub as well as nest under it. But hundreds of thousands of sagebrush land burns every fire season.
Federal researchers wanted to know if the post-fire seeding agencies do to stabilize the soil might also be a key to restoring sage grouse habitat. They looked at plots burned in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Nevada.
But in most areas, years after the fire, there still wasn't enough sagebrush – seeding or no seeding.
Robert Arkle, lead author of the study published in the journal Ecosphere, says what researchers did find was a lot of non-native cheat grass.
“So it creates this positive feedback loop, where the more cheatgrass you have, the more fire you have. And the more fire you have, the more cheatgrass you have.”
Land managers are trying to reverse the decline in the sage grouse population. Wildfire, invasive species and human development have eliminated large portions of the bird's habitat.