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Science & Research

Research Looks Into Connection Between Cattle Grazing And Sage Grouse

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio
There's still a lot scientists don't know about how certain grazing practices impact sage grouse.

Even though the Obama administration decided not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act in September, University of Idaho professor Karen Launchbaugh knows the issue is not going away.

That’s why the scientist says it’s important to figure out exactly how – and when – cattle grazing could impact sage grouse. Launchbaugh is two years into a 10-year study that’s trying to figure out how grazing of perennial grasses affects spring nesting for sage grouse.

"[We've known for quite a while that] nests with sufficient grass height are more successful than those with inadequate grass height," says Launchbaugh. "And we also know that grazing reduces grass height. So the connection that we’re trying to understand is – is there a level at which grazing would reduce grass height in a way that would be detrimental to grouse.”

Launchbaugh says it will take another five years or so to be able to say exactly what her research could mean. By the end of the study, she hopes to have results that can help create a sustainable way to keep cattle on the land, while also protecting the sage grouse.

“But I think we’re just getting at the beginning of trying to develop those guidelines with good science instead of just kind of good logic.”

The scientist recently briefed the Idaho Cattle Association on her work. Launchbaugh says the organization - which is helping pay for the study – asked her tough questions. Ranchers are concerned about what the science could mean for their grazing operations.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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