Marking Fences Saves Sage Grouse
“I was headed out in the field and the sage grouse took off and headed right for that fence, but sure enough, at the last minute they went up and over those markers!” - Don Phillips, Ely, Nevada rancher participating in marking fences as part of SGI
Fence collisions are widespread and common for many grouse species—Europeans have marked fences for years to reduce game bird deaths but the idea is just now catching hold here in the States. Sage grouse fence collisions have been documented and fence-marking methods recommended for reducing bird impacts in rangeland habitats. When fences are marked to help sage grouse avoid them, there's an 83% reduction in collision rates, according to studies by scientist Bryan Stevens, who completed a master's degree on the subject in 2011 (See document section for his complete thesis).
His findings also suggest marking is not necessary on all fences, and that marking efforts should focus on areas with locally abundant grouse populations and fence segments < 1.6 mi from known leks. Nonetheless, collisions still happen at marked fences < 0.5 mi from large leks, and moving fences as part of a grazing system can yield even larger benefits to birds.
(Read more below.)
Sage Grouse Initiative Contracts with Bryan Stevens to Take His Model and Apply it Range-Wide
Sage Grouse Initiative has now contracted Bryan to take his model and apply it range-wide in 10 of 11 sage-grouse states. The ‘next generation’ spatial tool will show us where collision risk is high and marking fences will yield the biggest returns on fence-marking investments, and conversely where risk from fences is low.
This tool will rely heavily on topography as the predominate factor influencing collision risk. Bottom line, the flatter the terrain, the longer distances fences pose a risk as birds fly low to lek sites over long distances. When topography increases, birds tend to fly higher to leks and fences therefore do not pose a collision risk. Identifying the specific fence segments that pose a threat is key to ensuring a common sense approach at remediation. Regardless of land ownership, this tool is something that all the partners can use to start marking fences in areas where their efforts will help the most. While just marking fences will not be enough, in conjunction with all SGI's other efforts, it's a key part of the program for sage grouse recovery.