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Federal Government To Study Greater Sage-grouse And Habitat In Great Basin Ecosystem

Tom Koerner / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Tom Koerner / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The federal government is planning to study 500,000 acres of the Great Basin ecosystem from southeastern Oregon across Nevada and into Utah.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hope to acquire more information that will help them preserve sagebrush and the bird that relies on it — the greater sage-grouse.

Steve Hanser is a sagebrush ecosystem specialist for the USGS and he says that much of the focus of the study will be on the removal of invasive species, like cheat grass.

"Some of the primary needs are understanding fire, invasive species, including, there's an annual invasive grass known as cheat grass, how to restore habitats, what are the impacts of climate and weather," Hanser says.

The Great Basin includes almost all of Nevada and parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah.

Hanser says cheat grass affects the landscape by altering the way fire moves through a habitat 

"It's much more susceptible to a re-burn over the years," Hanser says. "So, you move from a shrubland system to a grassland system, which, for those things that depend on those areas and the shrubs that are out there, it's a detrimental impact."

The bird uses sagebrush as a source of food and also as cover for nests. Other invasive species include medusahead rye and ventenata.

The greater sage-grouse is still listed by the federal government as a "species of concern," but is no longer listed as endangered, in part because of agreements between the government and ranchers that have conserved 5 million acres of sage-grouse habitat.   

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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