Managers require quantitative yet tractable tools that identify areas for restoration yielding effective benefits for targeted wildlife species and the ecosystems they inhabit. As a contemporary example of high national significance for conservation, the persistence of Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in the Great Basin is compromised by strongly interacting stressors of conifer expansion, annual grass invasion, and more frequent wildfires occurring in sagebrush ecosystems. Associated restoration treatments to a sagebrush-dominated state are often costly and may yield relatively little ecological benefit to sage-grouse if implemented without estimating how Sage-grouse may respond to treatments, or do not consider underlying processes influencing sagebrush ecosystem resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive species. Here, we describe example applications of a spatially explicit conservation planning tool (CPT) to inform prioritization of: (1) removal of conifers (i.e., pinyon-juniper); and (2) wildfire restoration aimed at improving habitat conditions for the Bi- State Distinct Population Segment of Sage-grouse along the California-Nevada state line. The CPT measures ecological benefits to sage-grouse for a given management action through a composite index comprised of resource selection functions and estimates of abundance and space use. For pinyon-juniper removal, we simulated changes in land-cover composition following the removal of sparse trees with intact understories, and ranked treatments on the basis of changes in ecological benefits per dollar- unit of cost. For wildfire restoration, we formulated a conditional model to simulate scenarios for land cover changes (e.g., sagebrush to annual grass) given estimated fire severity and underlying ecosystem processes influencing resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasion by annual grasses. For both applications, we compared CPT rankings to land cover changes along with sagebrush resistance and resilience metrics. Model results demonstrated how the CPT can be an important step in identifying management projects that yield the highest quantifiable benefit to Sage-grouse while avoiding costly misallocation of resources, and highlight the importance of considering changes in sage-grouse ecological response and factors influencing sagebrush ecosystem resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasion. This unique framework can be adopted to help inform other management questions aimed at improving habitat for other species across sagebrush and other ecosystems.
Ricca, Mark A.; Coates, Peter S.; Gustafson, K. Benjamin; Brussee, Brianne E.; Chambers, Jeanne C.; Espinosa, Shawn P.; Gardner, Scott C.; Lisius, Sherri; Ziegler, Pilar; Delehanty, David J.; Casazza, Michael L. 2018. A conservation planning tool for Greater Sage-grouse using indices of species distribution, resilience, and resistance. Ecological Applications. 28(4): 878-896.