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Of grouse and golden eggs: Can ecosystems be managed within a species-based regulatory framework?

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Declining greater sage-grouse populations are causing concern for the future of this species across the western U.S. Simultaneously, major ecosystem issues including exotic annual grass invasion and conifer encroachment threaten vast acreages of sagebrush rangeland. This situation has promoted divergent viewpoints on how to protect critical species while gaining traction on important ecosystem issues. In this paper, we argue that the fates of the sagebrush ecosystem and greater sage-grouse are not independent, and that promoting species-centric management in the face of ecosystem decline can result in apparent short-term success for sage-grouse, followed by long-term failure for both. A good example of this conundrum is expansion of native conifers into high elevation sage-grouse habitat. These conifer species are easily killed by fire and their expansion is a reflection of historical land use and contemporary fire management policies that de-emphasize the role of fire in these ecosystems. From a species-centric standpoint, mechanical removal of conifers is a preferred management alternative and can create short-term conditions favorable to sage-grouse. However, cutting is prohibitively expensive at large scales, and treatment duration is limited. From an ecosystem standpoint, restoring the fire cycle is critical to addressing conifer encroachment. Fire decreases sage-grouse habitat quality in the short-term, but without treatment that habitat will eventually be lost due to conifer woodland development. Balancing species-centric and ecosystem concern is made more difficult by judicial/ regulatory frameworks that give priority to species protection. We propose a new sage-grouse conservation approach that recognizes important habitat components for sage-grouse as set within state-and-transition models that emphasize key ecological drivers of plant community succession. This approach represents a unified vision of conservation success that honors a commitment to sage-grouse conservation by maintaining the capacity of the ecosystem to produce critical habitat, and greatly expands the diversity of stakeholders willing to participate.
Chad S. Boyd , Dustin D. Johnson , Jay D. Kerby , Tony J. Suejcar , Kirk W. Davies
USDA Scientist Submission
Rangeland Ecology and Management 2014 7 v.67
the Society for Range Management
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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