Greater sage-grouse chick mortality risk relative to livestock grazing management, environmental factors, and morphometric measurements

Lorelle I. Berkeley, Mark Szczypinski, Shea P. Coons, Victoria J. Dreitz, Justin A. Gude

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse) populations in the western United States have declined, necessitating conservation efforts. The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and livestock producers implemented the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) to improve sage-grouse habitat using regional-specific management actions such as rotational grazing. We assessed the effect of SGI grazing management, the influence of brood female and chick morphometric traits, and multiple environmental and anthropogenic disturbance factors on chick mortality risk in a sage-grouse population in central Montana, USA, from 2011–2019. We used a Kaplan-Meier survival function to evaluate chick survival, Cox proportional hazards models to evaluate chick mortality risk as a function of brood female and chick morphometric traits, and the Andersen-Gill formulation of the Cox proportional hazards model to assess the effects of time-dependent habitat characteristics on chick mortality risk. Survival to 45 days post-hatch for 510 chicks varied annually from 0.26 ± 0.07 (SE) to 0.69 ± 0.07. The 45-day survival rate for all years combined was 0.51 ± 0.03. Chick mortality risk was not affected by changes in livestock grazing management implemented through the SGI grazing program. Brood female age and body condition, sex of chicks, vegetation, and anthropogenic variables were also unassociated with chick mortality risk. There were small protective effects of chick mass adjusted for age and mean minimum monthly temperature; greater chick mass and lower monthly temperatures correlated with reduced mortality risk. Overall, our study suggests the SGI grazing program does not confer additional benefits to sage-grouse chicks beyond existing grazing practices. Incentivizing grazing practices that adhere to fundamental principles of rangeland ecology and maintain intact rangelands may be more effective than specific prescribed grazing systems for sage-grouse conservation in this region.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
DOIs
StatePublished - May 16 2024

Keywords

  • Centrocercus urophasianus
  • chick survival
  • grazing
  • greater sage-grouse
  • Montana
  • rangeland management
  • SGI
  • telemetry

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