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Sage Grouse

Vegetation Restoration in the Lakes Basin

Much of the upland areas in the central and eastern parts of the Lakes Basin are covered by sagebrush grasslands and western juniper woodlands. The sagebrush grasslands have an overstory of sagebrush and other shrubs such as bitterbrush, rabbit brush, and mountain mahogany, and an understory of perennial bunch grasses and forbs. Western juniper is a long-lived conifer that can survive with as little as eight inches of annual precipitation. Young juniper can co-exist with sagebrush and other shrubs and grasses, but as a stand matures, the trees become dense and shade out understory vegetation.

Before European settlement, fire helped maintain the distribution of junipers and sagebrush. Juniper, a species intolerant of fire, was largely restricted to areas with shallow soils and little understory vegetation to carry flames. In contrast, the shrubs and grasses of the sagebrush steppe were adapted to fire and could quickly reestablish after periodic burns. In recent decades, however, fire suppression has led to a dramatic change in the distribution of these two habitat types. Juniper woodlands have expanded by 70% since European settlement. Most of this expansion has displaced sagebrush shrublands. Extensive juniper removal and control efforts are ongoing in the Lakes Basin, as well as other parts of Eastern Oregon.

One of species affected by the loss of sagebrush habitat is the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasiansu). This large, chicken-like bird feeds on sagebrush and requires stretches of open ground for its elaborate mating dance. Sage grouse numbers are declining, and in 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began to consider it for listing under the Endangered Species Act. In 2010, the Department of the Interior announced that the species would not be listed, but confirmed that the species was declining, contradicting earlier reports. The species has been assigned a status called "warranted but precluded", and will be placed on a list of candidate species for future inclusion on the list. The status of the sage grouse will be reviewed yearly.

For more information, visit these sites:

  • Juniper Encroachment: