Understanding biological effectiveness before scaling up range-wide restoration investments for Gunnison sage-grouse

Kevin E. Doherty, Jacob D. Hennig, Jonathan B. Dinkins, Kathleen A. Griffin, Avery A. Cook, Jeremy D. Maestas, David E. Naugle, Jeffrey L. Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Imperiled species recovery is a high-stakes endeavor where uncertainty surrounding effectiveness of conservation actions can be an impediment to implementation at necessary scales, especially where habitat restoration is required. Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) represents one such species in need of large-scale habitat restoration. It is a federally threatened sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) obligate bird with a limited range in Colorado and Utah. Threats to recovery of Gunnison sage-grouse include conifer expansion into sagebrush along with additional habitat loss and degradation attributed to human development and agricultural conversion. Recovery of Gunnison sage-grouse and other sensitive species can be aided by spatial tools that forecast plausible outcomes of conservation actions. We illustrate this by using a novel framework for predicting outcomes of proactive tree removal and subsequent sagebrush restoration for the Gunnison sage-grouse. To assess threats on Gunnison sage-grouse lek presence, we developed a spatially explicit breeding habitat model to compare active lek and random pseudo-absence locations from 2015. Models identified land cover, climatic, and abiotic variables at landscape-level scales (0.56 and 4 km) most important for predicting breeding habitat. Our model correctly differentiated between lek and pseudo-absence locations 94% of the time. All but one of the active leks (n = 94) were in areas with >0.65 probability of lek occurrence. Using this probability value as a threshold, we predicted 15% of the current grouse range as high-quality breeding habitat. Simulated removal of trees in areas with ≤30% tree canopy cover (0.56-km scale) increased extent of high-quality habitat fourfold (59%). Hypothetical restoration of sagebrush cover in the same areas increased habitat quality an additional 11%. Our breeding habitat model indicated that targeted tree removal and sagebrush restoration have potential to improve Gunnison sage-grouse breeding habitat. While our habitat treatment scenarios were not meant to be prescriptive, they highlight that considerable uplift in Gunnison sage-grouse breeding habitat may be possible across much of its range with cooperation from multiple stakeholders and illustrates the utility of this approach for predicting biological return on investment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02144
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Centrocercus minimus
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • conifer expansion
  • habitat restoration
  • habitat selection
  • juniper
  • lek occurrence
  • pinyon pine


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