Saving sage-grouse from the trees: A proactive solution to reducing a key threat to a candidate species

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Conservation investment in management of at-risk species can be less costly than a delay-and-repair approach implemented after species receive legal protection. The United States Endangered Species Act candidate species designation represents an opportunity to implement proactive management to avoid future listing. Such efforts require substantial investments, and the challenge becomes one of optimization of limited conservation funds to maximize return. Focusing on conifer encroachment threats to greater sage-grouse (. Centrocercus urophasianus), we demonstrated an approach that links species demographics with attributes of conservation threats to inform targeting of investments. We mapped conifer stand characteristics using spatial wavelet analysis, and modeled lek activity as a function of conifer-related and additional lek site covariates using random forests. We applied modeling results to identify leks of high management potential and to estimate management costs. Results suggest sage-grouse incur population-level impacts at very low levels of encroachment, and leks were less likely to be active where smaller trees were dispersed. We estimated costs of prevention (treating active leks in jeopardy) and restoration (treating inactive leks with recolonization potential) management across the study area (2.5 million. ha) at a total of US$17.5 million, which is within the scope of landscape-level conservation already implemented. An annual investment of US$8.75 million can potentially address encroachment issues near all known Oregon leks within the next decade. Investments in proactive conservation with public and private landowners can increase ecosystem health to benefit species conservation and sustainable land uses, replace top-down regulatory approaches, and prevent conservation reliance of at-risk species. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

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Biological Conservation