Sage grouse are native to the sagebrush steppe of western North America. Their distribution closely follows that of sagebrush, primarily big sagebrush.
Once found in 13 western states and three Canadian provinces, sage grouse are found today in 11 states and in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The bird's remaining strongholds are in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon.
Distribution of sage grouse in Montana includes the eastern one-half and southwest corner of the state -- roughly 27 million acres of sagebrush-grassland in 39 counties.
Concerned about the status of sagebrush habitat and sage grouse on western rangelands, several parties have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
While the loss of sagebrush habitat in quality and quantity is not as severe in Montana as elsewhere, the loss is significant enough, at least in parts of the state, to influence sage grouse numbers and populations trends.
In eastern Montana, where wintering, nesting, and brood-rearing habitat are close, sage grouse are essentially nonmigratory.
In southwestern Montana, some sage grouse are migratory, moving between separate summer and winter areas. Migratory movements of sage grouse also have been documented between eastern Idaho and southwest Montana. Seasonal movement follows the availability of herbaceous vegetation during late summer and early fall.
Breeding -- Strutting grounds or "leks," where breeding occurs, are key activity areas and most often consist of clearings surrounded by sagebrush cover.
Nesting habitat. Sage grouse prefer sagebrush for nesting cover, and successful nesting requires the concealment provided by a combination of shrub and residual grass cover.
Brood-rearing habitat. Research indicates that sage grouse broods prefer relatively open stands of sagebrush during summer. As forbs become less palatable, sage grouse move to moist areas that still support succulent vegetation, such as alfalfa fields. In southwest Montana, sage grouse often move to intermountain valleys during late summer where forbs remain succulent through summer and early fall.
Winter habitat. Sage grouse generally select relatively tall and large expanses of dense sagebrush during winter. The importance of shrub height increases with snow depth.
Mortality during the first few weeks of life is typically high and can increase when drought reduces availability of important food sources (such as insects and forbs) or herbaceous understory (used as escape cover). Survival rates for adult sage grouse are generally considered to be high, indicating that population declines are not related to predation on adult birds.
In Montana, sage grouse are managed as an upland game bird under state legislative authority, including the statutory mandate of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to regulate harvest. FWP, in conjunction with federal land management agencies and conservation groups, monitors grouse populations during spring through census of displaying males on leks. The post-harvest telephone survey provides an estimate of harvest for all upland bird species, trends in hunter numbers, and number of birds taken.
Cossitt Consulting Team: Anne Cossitt, Cossitt Consulting, Park City, (406) 633-2213, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Management Plan and Conservation Strategies for Sage Grouse in Montana - Montana Sage Grouse Work Group