Conservation buffer distance estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse: a review

Open-File Report 2014-1239
By: , and 



This report was prepared at the request of the U.S. Department of the Interior and is a compilation and summary of published scientific studies that evaluate the influence of anthropogenic activities and infrastructure on Greater Sage-Grouse(Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter, sage-grouse) populations. The purpose of this report is to provide a convenient reference for land managers and others who are working to develop biologically relevant and socioeconomically practical buffer distances around sage-grouse habitats. The framework for this summary includes (1) addressing the potential effects of anthropogenic land use and disturbances on sage-grouse populations, (2) providing ecologically based interpretations of evidence from the scientific literature, and (3) informing implementation of conservation buffers around sage-grouse communal breeding locations—known as leks.


We do not make specific management recommendations but instead provide summarized information, citations, and interpretation of findings available in scientific literature. We also recognize that because of variation in populations, habitats, development patterns, social context, and other factors, for a particular disturbance type, there is no single distance that is an appropriate buffer for all populations and habitats across the sage-grouse range. Thus, we report values for distances upon which protective, conservation buffers might be based, in conjunction with other considerations. We present this information for six categories of land use or disturbance typically found in land-use plans which are representative of the level of definition available in the scientific literature: surface disturbance (multiple causes; immediate and cumulative influences); linear features (roads); energy development (oil, gas, wind, and solar); tall structures (electrical, communication, and meteorological); low structures (fences and buildings); and activities (noise and related disruptions). Minimum and maximum distances for observed effects found in the scientific literature, as well as a distance range for possible conservation buffers based on interpretation of multiple sources, expert knowledge of the authors regarding affected areas, and the distribution of birds around leks are provided for each of the six categories These interpreted values for buffer distances are an attempt to balance the extent of protected areas with multiple land-use requirements using estimates of the distribution of sage-grouse habitat. Conservation efforts may then focus on the overlap between potential effect zone and important habitats. We provide a brief discussion of some of the most relevant literature for each category. References associated with the minimum and maximum values are identified in the References Cited section with corresponding symbols.


Distances in this report reflect radii around lek locations because these locations are typically (although not universally) known, and management plans often refer to these locations. Lek sites are most representative of breeding habitats, but their locations are focal points within populations, and as such, protective buffers around lek sites can offer a useful solution for identifying and conserving seasonal habitats required by sage-grouse throughout their life cycle. However, knowledge of local and regional patterns of seasonal habitat use may improve conservation of those important areas, especially regarding the distribution and utilization of nonbreeding season habitats (which may be underrepresented in lek-based designations).

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Conservation buffer distance estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse: a review
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2014-1239
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141239
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Fort Collins Science Center, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description iv, 14 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details