Pheasants Forever facilitating juniper reduction to improve habitat
By Carol Ryan Dumas
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Ranchers have teamed up with Pheasants Forever, the local sage grouse working group, and state and federal agencies in an effort to protect sage grouse habitat in south-central Idaho and keep the bird off the endangered species list.
The effort to reduce junipers on Bureau of Land Management land in the Burley landscape area to improve habitat began in 2010.
Scott Scroggie, a range and wildlife conservationist with Pheasants Forever and a member of the national Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) strategic watershed action team, said it took about two years to get all the partners on board and committed.
Farm bill funding provided payments to the ranchers to remove junipers on their allotments, and the ranchers signed over the payments to Pheasants Forever to hire the work done, said Tim Griffiths, NRCS national SGI coordinator.
The goal is to remove junipers on 32,000 acres of BLM ground. Thus far, 7,000 of those acres were cleared by wildfire, 11,000 acres (including some private ground) are completed or will be completed this fall, and another 16,000 are scheduled to be done by March 2017, he said.
In addition 34 miles of fence were marked to prevent sage grouse collisions and nails were added to fence post as perch deterrents for raptors, he said.
Within a couple of weeks of removal on one site, more than 100 sage grouse were observed in the area on two different occasions, Scroggie said that led researchers to assume that that many birds weren’t utilizing the treed areas before junipers were removed.
Groups of birds have been seen on project sites, but they are typically in groups of 10 or 20, he said.
The goal is to connect large landscapes across the West, closing the gap with each project and creating the connectivity the sage grouse need, he said.