Juniper trees provide perches for hawks, eagles, and raptors. From these hidden perches, they can prey on game bird populations. Sage Grouse are especially susceptible to these ambush bushes. Junipers also crowd out native plants such as sage. Sagebrush is also a food source of sage grouse.
Sage Grouse populations have dwindled from 16 million, before Europeans arrived, to no more than 500,000 in just 11 western states. What will be happening is the areas where sage grouse live will return to more native and original habitat.
Experts blame the decline of sage grouse on road construction, development, and oil and gas leasing projects. Historically, fire would have kept things in check. After decades of fire suppression plans, the junipers have survived.
“Leks” are areas where the most reproduction occurs. Targeting these sites for juniper removal is critical. Research shows that areas where Leks are still healthy have now junipers for many miles. 115 square miles of treeless areas is recommended to keep these Leks active. Thick juniper stands can be removed using a controlled burn.
Junipers also use up more water than other plants. Once they are removed, areas tend to have more ponds and small streams. Both public and private lands are being targeted.
The BLM is trying to “preserve the diversity we have.”
For more Montana Grant, find him working hard at www.montanagrantfishing.com.