Researchers release latest findings on grouse & grazing study

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(KMVT/KSVT) - The University of Idaho along with other sectors are studying the effects of spring grazing by cattle on sage grouse.

More than half of Idaho land is grazed by livestock, and sage grouse is a species of concern in the state.

"(Sage grouse) was petitioned to be listed as an endangered species. Although it was not listed we — land managers and ranchers across the state — have been actively trying to manage land in a way that’s beneficial to grouse," said Karen Launchbaugh, director of the Rangeland Center at the University of Idaho.

Amidst the decade-long research, five sites were selected across southern Idaho, including Brown's Bench in Twin Falls County and Jim Sage Mountains in Cassia County.

Four years into the study, Launchbaugh says they're currently in the stage of correlative results.

"In other words, we’re measuring how successful nests are from birds we capture, and we are measuring how much that was influenced by grazing, by utilization levels or the grass being shortened by grazing," she said. "So right now we’re just looking at the influence cattle are having on the land and then how that is affecting the nest and nest-excessive birds."

With what they've seen so far, she says they have evidence that can go both ways.

"In some ways, our results would show that grazing could be detrimental to sage grouse. For example that it does reduce grass height, and many researchers have found, including us, that sage grouse nests that are successful are often surrounded by taller grass than unsuccessful nests," she explained. "On the other hand, we have some other correlative preliminary results that would say that pastures that are currently grazed are as successful as those that haven’t been grazed for years … so it's unclear how much the effect of grazing affects grouse."

Although it's still unclear at this point, they have about six more years left in the study.

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