|"The display of a male sage-grouse is truly a wonder of the natural world,” Heather says.|
We check in this week with some of the folks working to conserve the greater sage-grouse, its habitat and an American landscape. Heather McPherron is a sage-grouse biologist in the Central Washington Field Office. Her typical day in the office involves collaborating with federal and state partners to implement conservation efforts for the Columbia Basin population of sage-grouse. But, like sage-grouse biologists all over the West, Heather spends much of the spring stumbling through the shrublands at night looking to capture grouse with just a spotlight and a net. She has worked with sage-grouse in six of their 11 range states, and has endured many sleepless nights, carried generators on her back, ridden ATVs in extremely cold temperatures, tripped over bushes in the dark and walked hundreds of miles in search of sage-grouse. She has no plans to end her springtime ritual, though, “because there’s nothing better than watching a sage-grouse strut on an early spring morning,” she says.
5 Questions for Heather
1. In the conservation world, we hear a lot about the need to do “landscape conservation.” What does that mean to you?
To me, landscape conservation means thinking holistically about the functionality of the ecosystem as well as the needs of the species that depend on it. Landscape conservation planning is especially important to the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Sage-grouse are unlike most birds, they don’t migrate to drastically different environments for breeding and winter. Instead, they require sagebrush-steppe (a dry environment characterized by sagebrush plants and short bunchgrasses) for all of their life functions.
They use sagebrush to nest under, eat and hide from predators; they raise their young and spend winter in the same ecosystem. However, within the same ecosystem, there are many different parts to sage-grouse life cycle. That’s the key to landscape conservation, not preserving any one component, but achieving success at multiple levels that preserve the functionality of the landscape as a whole.