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Sagebrush Habitat Monitoring

Sage-grouse cannot survive without healthy sagebrush stands that meet certain criteria related to the condition and distribution of their habitat. Sage-grouse use sagebrush dominated lands year-round and rely on sagebrush for food, nesting, and concealment from predators. In addition to healthy stands of sagebrush, sage-grouse also require a diverse understory of native forbs and grasses which provide protection from predators and supply high-protein insects necessary for rapidly growing chicks.

The Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) between the DOE-ID and the FWS outlines a monitoring task to support ongoing assessment of sage-grouse habitat condition. Habitat condition monitoring data have been used to track trends in the quality of habitat available to sage-grouse on the INL Site through time, as well as to identify the effects of threats that may impact habitat condition (e.g., increases in nonnative plants). Although the surveys were not designed to address specific interactions between birds and their environment (i.e., nest site selection or foraging behaviors related to brood-rearing), they do provide an index of the overall condition and composition of the plant communities considered to be appropriate habitat for sage-grouse on the INL Site.

Seventy-five habitat condition monitoring plots have been sampled annually since 2013. The annual plots are split into two groups.

  • 48 plots located in areas currently mapped as sagebrush habitat.
  • 27 plots located in recovering habitat where sagebrush has been lost due to wildland fires.
To increase sample size and to address potential habitat threats, specifically fire and livestock use, an additional 150 plots were added and are sampled on a rotational basis. Rotational plots are divided into three sets of 50 plots that are each sampled once over a five-year cycle. Plots are sampled for vegetation cover, height by species, sagebrush density, and sagebrush juvenile frequency.

2019 Sheep Fire on the INL Site shown with all major wildland fires since 1994.

Sagebrush Habitat Monitoring Reports

©2020 ESER Program.