Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we care about the sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem?

Nevada is known as the Sagebrush State. Its sagebrush ecosystem supports many animals from sage-grouse and pygmy rabbits to mule deer and antelope. For Nevada, the potential listing of the sage-grouse as threatened or endangered would greatly impact the management of lands. It would limit back-country tourism which is a mainstay for many rural Nevada communities and other industries such as ranching, mining, and renewable energy development.

Sagebrush dominates much of western North America, with approximately 165 million acres of potential habitat. Early settlers traveling by wagon train called it the sagebrush sea. Despite its prevalence and amazing resilience to climatic extremes, it is an ecosystem that is being challenged by a combination of forces. Years of drought conditions and wildfire have accelerated the decline of the sagebrush habitat.

How are conditions impacting the sagebrush growth?

While the sagebrush is seemingly hearty with two kinds of root systems and depends on winds for pollination, it does not regenerate well after wildfire. Once this important vegetation is lost, the terrain is more susceptible to invasive or opportunistic species such as cheat grass and other invasive plants.

Why is there so much attention given to protecting the sage-grouse?

Sage-grouse can be found in the 11 Western states and Canada. They live at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet and depend on sagebrush for food and cover.  The sage-grouse populations are considered a harbinger of the overall health of the sagebrush ecosystem. Sage-grouse male lek attendance in Nevada in 2011 (19.7 males per active lek) was slightly above the preceding 10 year average (19.1 males per active lek) across the state. Sage-grouse male lek attendance in 2012 (18.7) and 2013 (14.1) were below the preceding 10 year averages (19.1 and 19.3, respectively).  The drop in male attendance was expected due to two consecutive years of poor production and recruitment. Some areas experienced more drastic decreases than others, and, in a few cases, some areas exhibited a more stable trend. (Information compiled from the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Nevada Department of Wildlife Nevada Sage-grouse Conservation Project Final Performance Reports; 2014 data is not yet available).

What does a sage-grouse look like?

Females are mottled brown, black, and white. Males are larger and, in spring, they have a white ruff around their necks, a yellow eye comb, and bright yellow air sacks on their breasts. Males have a black throat. The feathers on the back, wings, and tail are mostly brown, with some white and black spots. Both sexes have white bellies outlined in black. It is a large round-winged, ground-dwelling bird. The greater sage-grouse can grow up to 30 inches long and two feet tall, weighing from 2.5 to 7 pounds.

What do they eat?

The sage-grouse eats sagebrush leaves, wildflowers, and insects. In winter, sage-grouse can live on a 100 percent sagebrush diet. Chicks must have a high quality insect diet for the first several weeks after hatching.