Date of Award:

7-2013

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Shandra N. Frey

Abstract

While range-wide population declines have prompted extensive research on greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), basic information about southern periphery populations, such as the Bald Hills population in southern Utah, has not been documented. The objective of this research was to determine habitat preferences and space use patterns of the Bald Hills sage-grouse population which occurs in an area of high potential for renewable energy development. I tracked 66 birds via VHF telemetry in 2011 and 2012 and surveyed vegetation plots throughout the study area. I found that the population was primarily one-stage migratory with seasonal distributions that did not correspond well with previously developed suitable habitat maps (based on local biologist knowledge and lek data) for all seasons; I also found that mean home range sizes ranged from 82 km2 to 157 km2. Nesting hens did not select for any measured vegetation characteristics within the study area, while brood-rearing hens selected for high forb cover. Birds at summer sites (non-reproductive bird locations during the summer season) selected for greater grass and forb cover and lower shrub cover compared with random sites. Overall, Bald Hills sage-grouse used areas with greater shrub canopy cover and lower grass and forb cover than recommended in habitat guidelines. Ten predictor variables were used to model suitable seasonal habitat using Maximum Entropy (maxent). All models were created for the Bald Hills population and projected to the Bureau of Land Management Cedar City Field Office management area and produced excellent model fit (AUC > 0.900). The Bald Hills population had similar nesting and winter habitat preferences as other populations but different brood-rearing and summer habitat preferences. I found local management techniques to be an important driver of seasonal habitat selection; birds selected for areas that had undergone habitat treatments (such as broadcast burn and crushing) within the previous 10 years. My results indicated the Bald Hills periphery population occupies marginal habitat and has adapted unique seasonal habitat preferences. Managers of isolated, fringe, and low-density populations should develop locally specific management guidelines to address the unique adaptations and ensure the persistence of these populations.

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