April 2021 - 29

A sage grouse drinks from a water
source in Grand Teton National Park.
(Photo by Noppadol Paothong)

A PLACE TO DANCE
To the casual observer, sagebrush-steppe landscapes
may appear static and unchanging. But with the steady
expansion of human presence and activities, large tracts
of sagebrush habitat have been eliminated, altered and
fragmented throughout its formerly extensive range
in western North America. When the intermountain
basins in the West supported vast, interconnected
sagebrush-steppe landscapes, sage grouse must have
enjoyed virtually unlimited choices of foraging, nesting, brooding and lek sites. Today, however, sage grouse
must find accommodations among disconnected
patches of habitat scattered among human-dominated
landscapes in the American West.
Thanks to the foresight and diligence of wildlife and
land managers, and to the sparse human population,
Wyoming retains some of the most intact expanses of
high-quality sagebrush habitat in the western United
States. Much of this remaining stronghold for sage
grouse and other sagebrush-associated wildlife occurs
in Wyoming's intermountain basins, like the Big Horn
Basin.
" Because Wyoming has expanses of good sagebrush
habitat, the state has been able to keep healthy sage
grouse populations along with habitat that has leks
and everything needed for the birds to complete their
life cycle during the other 10 months of the year when
they are not associated with leks, " said Leslie Schreiber,
sage grouse/sagebrush biologist with the Wyoming
Game and Fish Department.
Sage grouse must find places that provide the basics
for survival and reproduction: food, water, shelter
from predators and weather and suitable locations
for nesting and lekking. Specific habitat needs vary
among these activities, and sage grouse may move great
distances to secure necessary resources throughout the
year. Leks are only a small piece of the puzzle when it
comes to the lives of sage grouse. Yet, high-quality sage
grouse habitat is not complete without the presence
of suitable lek sites.
Prime lek sites are large, open areas away from
ambushing carnivores and raptor perches but still
within distance of dense sagebrush for protection.
These open arenas, often created through variations in soils and native vegetation or by natural or
human-caused disturbances, allow male sage grouse
to showcase their plumage and dramatic strutting
displays while providing the birds a wide field of
view to detect predators from a distance. Within the
sagebrush mosaic, low-stature vegetation like blue
gramma, Sandberg bluegrass and threadleaf sedge
provide opportunities for males to attract and display
for females. Bare ground areas, like clay-dominated
playas or sites near water sources where large herbivores
disturb the ground, also are suitable lek sites. Sage
grouse require these openings for lekking and early
brood rearing but if sagebrush cover is too far away for

" Because Wyoming has expanses of good
sagebrush habitat, the state has been able to
keep healthy sage grouse populations along with
habitat that has leks and everything needed for
the birds to complete their life cycle during the
other 10 months of the year when they are not
associated with leks. " - Leslie Schreiber
a quick escape, sage grouse will not occupy the area.
Historically, bison herds helped create openings in
the sagebrush with their hooves and wallows. When
abundant, prairie dogs also helped create and maintain
openings by limiting shrub expansion and clipping
herbaceous plants low to the ground. Sagebrush-steppe
ecosystem components and dynamics have changed,
however. The large bison herds have been absent from
most sagebrush-steppe landscapes for more than a
century, and prairie dog range and abundance have
declined profoundly in sagebrush landscapes through
recent decades.
Natural and human-caused range fires continue
to play a part in creating open areas suitable for lekking in sagebrush landscapes. Dry grasses are easy for
lightning or other sparking agents to ignite. Native

		

Wyoming Wildlife | 29



April 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of April 2021

April 2021 - 1
April 2021 - 2
April 2021 - 3
April 2021 - 4
April 2021 - 5
April 2021 - 6
April 2021 - 7
April 2021 - 8
April 2021 - 9
April 2021 - 10
April 2021 - 11
April 2021 - 12
April 2021 - 13
April 2021 - 14
April 2021 - 15
April 2021 - 16
April 2021 - 17
April 2021 - 18
April 2021 - 19
April 2021 - 20
April 2021 - 21
April 2021 - 22
April 2021 - 23
April 2021 - 24
April 2021 - 25
April 2021 - 26
April 2021 - 27
April 2021 - 28
April 2021 - 29
April 2021 - 30
April 2021 - 31
April 2021 - 32
April 2021 - 33
April 2021 - 34
April 2021 - 35
April 2021 - 36
April 2021 - 37
April 2021 - 38
April 2021 - 39
April 2021 - 40
April 2021 - 41
April 2021 - 42
April 2021 - 43
April 2021 - 44
April 2021 - 45
April 2021 - 46
April 2021 - 47
April 2021 - 48
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/october-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/september-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/august-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/july-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/june-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/may-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/april-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/march-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/february-2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/January2021
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/December2020
https://www.nxtbook.com/wyominggame/WyomingWildlife/September2020
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com