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Does Wyoming’s Core Area Policy Protect Winter Habitats for Greater Sage-Grouse?

Smith, Kurt T., Beck, Jeffrey L., Pratt, Aaron C.
Environmental management 2016 v.58 no.4 pp. 585-596
Artemisia tridentata, Centrocercus urophasianus, breeding, breeding sites, conservation areas, habitat preferences, issues and policy, landscapes, probability, topography, wildlife, wildlife habitats, wildlife management, winter, Wyoming
Conservation reserves established to protect important habitat for wildlife species are used world-wide as a wildlife conservation measure. Effective reserves must adequately protect year-round habitats to maintain wildlife populations. Wyoming’s Sage-Grouse Core Area policy was established to protect breeding habitats for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Protecting only one important seasonal habitat could result in loss or degradation of other important habitats and potential declines in local populations. The purpose of our study was to identify the timing of winter habitat use, the extent which individuals breeding in Core Areas used winter habitats, and develop resource selection functions to assess effectiveness of Core Areas in conserving sage-grouse winter habitats in portions of 5 Core Areas in central and north-central Wyoming during winters 2011–2015. We found that use of winter habitats occured over a longer period than current Core Area winter timing stipulations and a substantial amount of winter habitat outside of Core Areas was used by individuals that bred in Core Areas, particularly in smaller Core Areas. Resource selection functions for each study area indicated that sage-grouse were selecting habitats in response to landscapes dominated by big sagebrush and flatter topography similar to other research on sage-grouse winter habitat selection. The substantial portion of sage-grouse locations and predicted probability of selection during winter outside small Core Areas illustrate that winter requirements for sage-grouse are not adequately met by existing Core Areas. Consequently, further considerations for identifying and managing important winter sage-grouse habitats under Wyoming’s Core Area Policy are warranted.