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How to create a Sage Grouse Garden?


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Dakota Dogman

For pheasants in SD it isn't too tricky.  Plant some CRP, give them a crop of corn or sun flowers... its about like the field of dreams "if you make it they will come".  The land can stay partially in production even.

 

For deer in MN it isn't too tricky.  Leave some hardwood.  Have a bit of water.  Plant a few rows of pine trees for bedding cover.  Add some corn to fatten up the bucks.  It doesn't take a lot of space... 40 acres will give you LOTS of shooting opportunities.

 

What would it take for sage grouse?  
In MT this fall I actually finally saw several BIGFOOTs; mystical, magical, mythical sage grouse. Every time we found them there were 3 things in common ...

1) water within a mile (normally closer).

2) some chest high sage. 

3) ridges they could climb for a view of foot predators following them

... oh, and 2 of the 3 had cows in the same pasture.

 

So, if a person was going to try to create a little piece of sage grouse heaven. A place that was set aside out of production specifically for this purpose... could they? How much land would they need? 80 acres?  160 acres?  Assume that we are talking about the middle of "traditional prime range"... MT or WY maybe

 

Or could you do solid strips of cover fenced off in the midst of a larger piece?  So taking 20 acres out of 160 as non-productive set aside just to grow old tall sage for the birds?

What would it take?

 

God Bless,

 

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I'm no sage grouse expert but out this way it would be uncommon to see them in high sage...most commonly they are in vast expanses of sage well below knee level. 

I had a hen, I believe it to be the same one, that nested under the same small sage bush on highest ridge of my property for 3 years straight.  Good mom.  Used to rear her brood right up there as well and they'd scare crap out me sneaking along hunting deer day after day.  She gone now.

Personally I think it would take thousands of acres to establish a home range...they'll fly long distances to food, water, and home.  You might have better luck establishing a food target like alfalfa to get them in for daily visits IMO.

 

Of course their preferences and habits may differ back that way.

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Sage grouse are very interesting birds that seemingly need absolutely minimum disturbance, human or otherwise, to flourish. Given vastly expanding Western populations of people, invasive species, and just simple changes in the plant ecology of any area that looks like a tough row to hoe. 

Some species seem able to flourish in chaos or semi chaos: coyotes, crows, grackles, etc and some do not: sage grouse, Kirtland's warblers, etc for example. 

That is the bad news; for the the good news; people are trying to do something about that.

For a start:  https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/

 

Sage grouse do best with very little human disturbance. In fact, new 2013 research by USGS sage grouse scientist Stephen Knick shows that 99 percent of active leks (breeding areas) are in areas with less than 3 percent of development. Knick looked at 3,000 leks within a 355,000 square-mile portion of the sage grouse historic range. Lands surrounding the active leks shared similar characteristics – broad expanses of sagebrush and less than 14 percent developed. The factors examined in a 3-mile radius of each lek were climate, land cover, and densities of roads, power lines, pipelines, and communication towers.

A Sage Grouse Initiative analysis (in press) of how invasive conifers affect sage grouse also shows that a very low tolerance of invading junipers or pinyons near leks. After canopy cover exceeded 4 percent, no leks in the study remained active. The authors evaluated 152 leks across four million acres of sage grouse habitat in eastern Oregon.

The good news is that armed with knowledge of the bird’s needs, conservation practices are making a difference – from strategically removing conifers near leks to states like Wyoming enacting core policies that limit development in areas of high sage grouse populations. SGI in 2013 released a video about the Wyoming example.

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Bird_Man_mike

Their preferred habitat varies seasonally.  

 

Sage flats in winter.  Either flat benches or valleys of sage with very, very few (preferably none) high perches that can give eagles an advantage.  Wintering groups can number in the hundreds of, and sometimes thousand+, birds if one knows where to look. 

 

Traditional leks in the spring breeding season.  Some have been used 1000s of years.  Typically, the leks are close to the wintering grounds. 

 

In summer into early autumn, theyll be in small, family groups either in highland sagebursh or agriculture/pasture lands.  They need water during this time.  I have heard that an abundance of grasshoppers during good years can replace some of their water requirement.  

 

 

I believe it would be very, very difficult to create a sage grouse 'garden' on a small piece of property, especially if there were any standing structures as those will discourage them from using the land. 

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On 1/18/2021 at 10:42 AM, Dakota Dogman said:

What would it take for sage grouse?  
In MT this fall I actually finally saw several BIGFOOTs; mystical, magical, mythical sage grouse. Every time we found them there were 3 things in common ...

1) water within a mile (normally closer).

2) some chest high sage. 

3) ridges they could climb for a view of foot predators following them

... oh, and 2 of the 3 had cows in the same pasture.

 

 

 

What you didn't see is that if you went back at a different time of year it's very possible there may not be any sage grouse with 20 miles of the spot you found them.

 

Sage grouse can and often do use huge expanses of land over the course of a year. There is a reason the species you note, pheasants and whitetail deer, can have populations that do just fine (if not increase) in areas with relatively high human populations. Sage grouse can not and hence their slow overall decline as human populations and disturbances in the west increase. Managing for Sage grouse is on a completely different scale than it is for pheasants and whitetail.

 

It would take a huge ranch to have all the ingredients Sage grouse need to stay on that property year round.

If you happen to live in the midst of Sage grouse country and wanted to get them on your property routinely I think your best bet would be a water source in the midst of their good summer habitat (big expanse of a low to medium height sage) and or wet/green areas (like alfalfa) near good sage habitat also in summer.

 

FYI chest high sage is not something sage grouse typically use. Not saying they NEVER use it, but of the thousands and thousands of sage grouse I have encountered, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen them in chest high sage.

 

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