Wildfires Help And Hinder Sage Grouse

Aug 16, 2012

While hundreds of residents prepare to evacuate their homes because of nearby fires, another set of residents have already been pushed out. Here’s what happens to the Sage Grouse bird after wildfires.

The Cave Canyon fire South of Twin Falls has burned almost 90,000 acres. Firefighters worked hard to protect homes, but they also made an extra push to preserve Sage Grouse habitat.

Jason Pyron is the Sage Grouse lead for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and he says fire helps and hinders the birds‘ existence. Of the 155,000-acre-habitat, about 20 percent of it burned. Pyron says this isn’t necessarily bad.

“It may have actually largely been a good fire for sage grouse because it would have helped with the removal with that juniper in that area,” Pyron says.

Junipers give raptors a place to perch, endangering Sage Grouse. So clearing juniper trees out will help the area be better suited for these birds in the future.

However, sagebrush land takes a long time to recover from fire and this can have negative effects.

“The birds in that area, the surviving adults will continue to survive but they will have very suppressed rates of reproduction,” Pyron says. “That results in a long term decline.”

This decline comes from birds going back to the area while it’s still burnt, and not being able to build stable nests.

Sage Grouse aren’t on the endangered species list, but it has been considered for protection in the past. The Cave Canyon fire is now over 75 percent contained, and no longer threatens their habitat.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio