Sage grouse articles mislead

  Dear HCN,

This is a follow-up to a couple of articles on sage grouse (HCN, 2/4/02: Last dance for the sage grouse?). Sagebrush is an important species and vital to rangeland ecosystems, but there is a limit to how much sagebrush is enough before it begins to bring down the overall condition of rangelands. When sagebrush reaches 10 to 15 percent canopy cover, those plants begin to limit the grass and forb understory in the plant community. To get rangelands back into the condition where sage grouse will flourish, sagebrush plant communities need to be managed to decrease sagebrush plant density and allow the grass and forb understory to have access to needed moisture. Then the grass and forb understory will provide the soil erosion protection benefits, wildlife food and cover, and plant diversity needs of the ecosystem.

While sagebrush rangelands have decreased over time with human development and agricultural cropping, the number of mature plants in the system has gotten out of hand over the past 40 years because of the lack of disturbance. The Gunnison Basin has the opportunity to do treatments and provide management to get native plant species back into the system.

The articles also gave the impression that the Gunnison Sage Grouse Working Group is not doing anything to implement the conservation plan that was developed. In actuality, there are many different efforts going on. Just about everything that is done by anyone in Gunnison has the words sage grouse associated with it.

There is much progress being made in this area for the good of sage grouse, and your articles did not help local efforts toward that end. In the future, it would be nice to have articles that expand on the positive work being done by people to improve the Western landscape.

John M. Scott
Gunnison, Colorado

The writer is district conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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