Evaluating greater sage-grouse seasonal space use relative to leks: Implications for surface use designations in sagebrush ecosystems


  • Associate Editor: Michael Chamberlain


The development of anthropogenic structures, especially those related to energy resources, in sagebrush ecosystems is an important concern among developers, conservationists, and land managers in relation to greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter, sage-grouse) populations. Sage-grouse are dependent on sagebrush ecosystems to meet their seasonal life-phase requirements, and research indicates that anthropogenic structures can adversely affect sage-grouse populations. Land management agencies have attempted to reduce the negative effects of anthropogenic development by assigning surface use (SU) designations, such as no surface occupancy, to areas around leks (breeding grounds). However, rationale for the size of these areas is often challenged. To help inform this issue, we used a spatial analysis of sage-grouse utilization distributions (UDs) to quantify seasonal (spring, summer and fall, winter) sage-grouse space use in relation to leks. We sampled UDs from 193 sage-grouse (11,878 telemetry locations) across 4 subpopulations within the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment (DPS, bordering California and Nevada) during 2003–2009. We quantified the volume of each UD (vUD) within a range of areas that varied in size and were centered on leks, up to a distance of 30 km from leks. We also quantified the percentage of nests within those areas. We then estimated the diminishing gains of vUD as area increased and produced continuous response curves that allow for flexibility in land management decisions. We found nearly 90% of the total vUD (all seasons combined) was contained within 5 km of leks, and we identified variation in vUD for a given distance related to season and migratory status. Five kilometers also represented the 95th percentile of the distribution of nesting distances. Because diminishing gains of vUD was not substantial until distances exceeded 8 km, managers should consider the theoretical optimal distances for SU designation between 5.0 km and 7.5 km, depending on migratory status. Although these results represent space use for sage-grouse within the Bi-State DPS, our results likely have broad relevance to other areas with similar landscape characteristics and patterns of space use. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.