Grazing Sagebrush to Save It

It’s a problem all over the West: old stands of sagebrush, poor in biodiversity due to lack of disturbance. The increase in sagebrush density over the past century is generally attributed to: 1) reduced numbers of mixed feeders and browsers such as deer, antelope, goats and sheep, 2) increased numbers of cattle and elk, 3) repeatedly grazing the same grasses and forbs, particularly during spring, and 4) fire suppression. Though the decline in diversity is due in part to grazing, grazing may in fact be the answer to improving plant diversity and wildlife habitat in sagebrush-steppe ecosystems. Researchers at Utah State University have found that grazing by sheep and cattle during the fall, when grasses and forbs are dormant, can increase diversity by reducing sagebrush’s competitive advantage. Supplemental nutrients can improve the effectiveness of fall grazing because sheep and goats supplemented with energy and protein eat nearly twice as much sagebrush as unsupplemented animals. The energy and protein supplements provided enable sheep to better detoxify the toxins found in sagebrush. Thus, intake of sagebrush may be increased if large numbers of supplemented sheep graze sagebrush for a few days in the fall. We have been investigating methods to increase use of sagebrush by both sheep and cattle. Below are summaries and references for our projects. Eating Sagebrush to Save It: Creating and Improving Resilience As managers, we may have unintentionally traine

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One thought on “Grazing Sagebrush to Save It

  1. How could this practice interact with the effort to save sage grouse habitat? Improve? Compete?

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