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Keywords:

  • big sagebrush;
  • Centrocercus urophasianus;
  • cumulative disturbance factors;
  • energy development;
  • greater sage-grouse;
  • lek abandonment;
  • shrubs;
  • wildfire

Abstract

Detecting the disappearance of active leks is the most efficient way to determine large declines in greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) populations; thus, understanding factors that influence lek abandonment is critical. We evaluated factors that may have influenced the probability of sage-grouse lek abandonment in the Bighorn Basin (BHB) of north-central Wyoming from 1980 to 2009. Our objective was to examine lek abandonment based on landscape characteristics that explain differences between occupied and unoccupied leks. We evaluated lek abandonment from 144 occupied and 39 unoccupied leks from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department lek database with sufficient data for our 30-year analysis. We conducted our analysis with binary logistic regression using landscape predictor variables obtained from geographic coverages at 5 scales (1.0-, 3.2-, 4.0-, 5.0-, and 6.4-km radii around leks) to evaluate how these disturbances have influenced lek abandonment. Coverages included anthropogenic characteristics such as agricultural development, oil and gas development, prescribed burned treatments, and roads; and environmental characteristics such as vegetation attributes and wildfire. Our combined model included the number of oil and gas wells in a 1.0-km radius, percent area of wildfire in a 1.0-km radius, and variability in shrub height in a 1.0-km radius around sage-grouse leks. Abandoned (unoccupied) leks had 1.1-times the variability of shrub height in a 1.0-km radius, 3.1-times the percentage of wildfire in a 1.0-km radius, and 10.3-times the number of oil and gas wells in a 1.0-km radius compared to occupied leks. The model-averaged odds of lek persistence with every 1 unit increase in oil and gas wells within a 1.0-km radius was 0.66 (90% CI: 0.37–0.94), odds with every 1% increase in wildfire in a 1.0-km radius was 0.99 (90% CI: 0.85–1.12), and odds with every 1 unit increase in the standard deviation of shrub height within a 1.0-km radius around a lek was 0.77 (90% CI: 0.45–1.08). Because the 90% confidence intervals around the odds ratios of wells did not overlap 1.0, we suggest this predictor variable was most influential in our model-averaged estimates. The BHB has lower developed reserves of oil and gas than many other regions; however, our study supports findings from other studies that demonstrate energy development increases lek abandonment. Our findings indicate conservation efforts should be focused on minimizing well development and implementing wildfire suppression tactics near active sage-grouse leks. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.