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Wildfires Impact Sage-Grouse Populations

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By Aimee Burnett

Twin Falls, Idaho (KMVT-TV) Wildfires are taking a toll on sage-grouse populations.

The fires are destroying vital habitat that sometimes takes decades to recover.

With massive wildfires killing off sage-grouse habitat, the six pound bird could soon become endangered.

Over the last thirty years wildfires, fueled by drought and cheatgrass, have been the main cause of sagebrush habitat loss in Idaho.

The Murphy Complex in 2007 destroyed over 650,000 acres.

"One of the biggest fires we've had here in a long time and it took out hundreds of thousands of acres of sage brush," said Jerome Hansen, Magic Valley Regional Manager, Idaho Fish and Game.

Sage–grouse are one of several species that are what's called sage brush obligates.

"They have to have sagebrush to make a living. They depend on it year round for food and cover," said Hansen.

Wildfires, like this year's Kinyon Road Fire, converted hundreds of thousands of acres of sage brush habitat to grassland habitat.

"It takes a long, long time, 10s of 20s of 30, 40, 50 sometimes a hundred years to restore, bring back the sagebrush," said Hansen.

This year's fires burned in areas that were ravaged by the 2007 fire season.

"Some of those areas we started toward a little bit of restoration and in the areas that burned again we lost some of that. The only way to get sage brush into some of these areas is to plant it either by seed, sometimes flown on, or by planting shrubs," said Hansen.

The sage–grouse has been a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2010.

Sagebrush leaves make up ninety–nine percent of the sage–grouse diet during the winter months.

The fires in Owyhee and Twin Falls counties back in 2007 depleted the number of sage–grouse males by sixty–six percent.


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