Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
KLAMATH NWRC:Restoring Greater Sage Grouse at the Devil’s Garden
California-Nevada Offices , September 19, 2011
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Local ranchers and agency biologists release greater sage grouse to improved habitat in northeast California.
Local ranchers and agency biologists release greater sage grouse to improved habitat in northeast California. - Photo Credit: USFWS

Every spring on the Great Basin desert the “sagebrush ocean” comes alive with the intriguing sounds of a chicken-sized bird dancing among others of its own kind. This annual ritual dance by male Greater sage grouse attracts potential mates and perpetuates the species. However, this important mating ritual is a rare experience in the Devil’s Garden, a region in northeastern California where the greater sage grouse populations are in serious decline. Over the past 30 years sage grouse populations have diminished from over 40 active leks (areas where males and females gather to mate) to one lek on Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge(NWR). In this area, sage grouse nearly disappeared in 2005.
A silent invasion of western juniper trees has slowly displaced a connected landscape once dominated by sagebrush. Western juniper also consumes water that would typically be available to other sagebrush associated plant species, almost ensuring the loss of sagebrush. This slow degradation of habitat has resulted in the loss of over 85 percent of sage grouse habitat in California.
The dramatic loss of sage grouse in northern California and the prospect of listing the bird as an endangered species prompted biologists at Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to team-up with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), the U.S. Forest Service and local cattle ranchers to develop and implement strategies to conserve sage grouse in the Devil’s Garden. Biologists with Klamath Basin NWRC and CDFG immediately set to repopulating the Devil’s Garden area. Teaming up with biologists from Sheldon-Hart Mountain NWR and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, they captured and relocated sage grouse from refuges and other public lands in Nevada and Oregon. The birds were then released on the Clear Lake NWR where they have grouped up with the few remaining residents. But translocating birds from other populations is only a short term answer for a more complex problem. Restoring functional sage grouse habitat is also needed.
The Service, private landowners and the U.S. Forest Service have been removing invasive juniper trees, reseeding native forb species, restoring wet meadows and planting brush species. Last year, the NRCS developed the Sage Grouse Initiative which has delivered over $2 million and over 15,000 acres of habitat to recover sage grouse in northeastern California. Private landowners, working with Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, have restored over 6,500 acres of habitat on private lands. More than 100 sage grouse currently call the Devil’s Garden “home.”
“When all entities work together to develop a positive symbiotic relationship, wildlife and other uses directly benefit,” said Mike Byrne, local rancher and Resource Conservation District president. “Species’ prosper only when people communicate and collaborate to solve problems.”
-- Ron Cole, Bridget Nielsen, John Beckstrand, and Chad Bell

Link to Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov
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