April 2021 - 31

your health. And, like a physician, we must proceed
with patience and caution, following the " first do
no harm " credo. With enough information and a
sound understanding of the conditions and uses of
the landscape, we can develop a management plan
that is just what the doctor ordered.
For example, the Bureau of Land Management
Cody Field Office developed a management plan in
2004 to improve a poorly-attended sage grouse lek
in the Polecat Bench area of the Big Horn Basin. The
multiple-use area included a livestock grazing allotment. The first treatment was mowing the existing
vegetation cover in a highly mosaic pattern. Following a recovery period, the area was burned in
a similar pattern in 2008. Subsequently, male sage
grouse attendance at the lek rose from about 12 birds
prior to the treatments to 136 in 2009. The grazing
productivity of the allotment also improved. Over
time, wildlife managers will be able to evaluate long
term trends at the location to determine its impact
on lek attendance. Much of the success is due to a
livestock grazing strategy that provides annual growing
season rest. Great care was taken to develop an annual
grazing management plan that allowed for adequate
native vegetation recovery. By mowing first, managers
established a time for native grasses to seed for multiple years. This helped the native plants survive and
thrive when the prescribed burn was implemented.
Having healthy, vigorous cover of native vegetation is
the best deterrent to cheatgrass in a sagebrush-steppe
environment.
Conditions at the Polecat Bench lek made it possible for land managers to treat with mowing, controlled
burning and appropriate agricultural grazing. Just as
a physician considers many factors before prescribing
treatment for each person, so do land and wildlife
managers at each location. In landscapes without a
robust source of native grasses and seeds, for example,
fire can trigger cheatgrass invasion. Furthermore, the
presence of cheatgrass at leks and within the sagebrush
steppe can limit actions taken by wildlife and land
managers. Some areas require small scale projects
to benefit sage grouse while others may affect larger
portions of the habitat. Also, some treatments are
more effective when done at certain times of the year.
This means wildlife and land managers must carefully
consider the situation before taking action.
" Every situation is unique, so it's important to
consider all the tools we have before thinking about
altering a lek, " said Schreiber. " The majority of the
1,800 leks in Wyoming are suitable in their current
condition. In some specific situations, we can provide
better areas for sage grouse to display and ultimately
increase the chance they will mate. "
Developing rangeland management strategies to
support high-quality sage grouse habitat in a multiple use sagebrush-steppe landscape is challenging.

What is a lek?

A lek is an area where males of some species congregate to compete
with one another for the attention of females. The term is derived
from the Swedish lek, meaning child's play, and the courtship ritual is
called lekking. Lekking occurs among several species of birds, insects
and mammals, but is especially renown among grouse. In the Big Horn
Basin, the sage grouse lekking season typically lasts from March to
May and peaks in April.
Successful plans rely on careful and detailed observation, sound scientific knowledge, well-designed
experimentation, the flexibility to respond to changing
land uses and environmental conditions, and often,
collaboration with multiple stakeholders. Even with
the right management ingredients at their disposal,
like mowing, burning, herbicides and grazing, managers must determine the best recipe for the objectives
at hand. Variations in timing, spatial placement and
intensity of each treatment can render different results.
There remains much debate and much to learn about
creating and implementing effective sage grouse management plans in multiple-use sagebrush ecosystems.
Even plans that are initially successful require regular
monitoring and adjustments to account for natural
and human-caused disturbances in these environments
that exhibit little resistance or resilience to disturbance. Sage grouse have complex needs requiring a
multi-faceted land-use management strategy.
- A lifelong hunter and angler, Dr. Charles Preston turned his
love of the outdoors and wildlife into a 46-year career in wildlife
ecology. He retired in 2018 after 21 years as Founding and Senior
Curator of the Draper Natural History Museum - Buffalo Bill
Center of the West and maintains an appointment as Curator
Emeritus at the center.
- Destin Harrell is a wildlife biologist for the Bureau of Land
Management and has worked in the sagebrush steppe for 23
years. He likes to learn about all things nature and activities
that get him into the backcountry and into the depths of
our surroundings.

		

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April 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of April 2021

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