Habitat & Conservation  |  04/16/2024

Habitat Updates: Bureau of Land Management


245 million acres of habitat management opportunity

Among the opportunities to influence upland habitat throughout the United States, the sprawling landscapes which fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) represent 245 million acres of habitat management opportunity on public lands.

The dedicated chapter volunteers of PF and QF, along with the organization’s large network of biologists and habitat specialists, have utilized our partnership with BLM to restore habitat on more than 200,000 acres and increase access to 30,000 acres of landlocked public lands.

But there’s much more habitat work to be accomplished by proactively seeking opportunities through this maturing partnership.

The following is a regional update on projects being implemented throughout BLM property in western landscapes benefiting wildlife, hunters, and communities.

Wildlife Guzzlers

The organization’s Government Affairs team met with BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning in Washington, D.C. in late winter to discuss and map out conservation priorities moving forward into the new year, including frustrations that our California chapters had been experiencing with guzzler maintenance and implementation.

Why are guzzlers so important? Gallinaceous guzzlers are one of the main habitat tools utilized by Quail Forever chapters. These permanent structures capture and store rainwater in holding tanks designed for wildlife to access, a necessity for small and big game in the arid west—many species are frequently found within a ¼-mile of water retention structures. Numerous chapters in the West, including Southern Nevada QF, Ridgecrest QF, Ventura QF, Los Padres QF, Riverside QF, and San Gabriel Valley QF chapters contribute thousands of dollars and many annual hours of volunteer time to ensure that no matter how dry the conditions, local wildlife have a dependable water source.

Shortly after Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever met with the BLM Director, local BLM field offices reached out to our chapters and re-opened the lines of communication. Logistics for a meeting to discuss the next steps in getting quail habitat work completed on guzzlers is currently underway, which is a large step in the right direction. Read more about our BLM advocacy work here!

BOSH Project

Entering its sixth year of collaboration, the Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat (BOSH) Project is an initiative to clear encroaching trees from sagebrush habitat in southwestern Idaho. This has been no small task, which as of today has impacted 140,000 acres of habitat.

The project’s focus is on removing encroaching juniper trees to provide better habitat quality and quantity for the Greater Sage-Grouse. The impact of conifer encroachment on Sage-Grouse has been well documented, and scientific communities agree that Sage-Grouse avoid areas with more than 4% conifer cover, causing a devastating decline in their population. Research has shown conifer encroachment is the second leading threat to sagebrush habitat following invasive annual plants such as cheatgrass. Addressing this threat also benefits other upland bird species such as chukar partridge, gray partridge and valley quail. Several iconic western wildlife species also depend on sagebrush for cover and grazing such as mule deer, pronghorn antelope and songbirds.

Entering its sixth year of collaboration, the Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat (BOSH) Project is an initiative to clear encroaching trees from sagebrush habitat in southwestern Idaho.

In short, 140,000 acres out of a possible 617,000 has been treated so far. Nearly 45,000 acres were treated in 2023, making it the most accomplished year for the project since it began in 2019. Looking forward to 2024, a lofty goal of 60,000 acres is planned. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will run their own contracts, but Pheasants Forever will also play a key role in reaching such an ambitious acreage goal. Pheasants Forever’s team will hire additional contractors to tackle more acres by utilizing grant funding from BLM, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Pittman-Robertson funds from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Gaining access to additional funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has also been instrumental in scaling up this project, since the majority of regular BLM funds have previously been directed toward other projects in the area.

This project is made possible by the collaboration of many partners alongside Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. This includes the Boise District Bureau of Land Management, Owyhee and Bruneau Field Offices of the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Montana Access Project

In Montana, Pheasants Forever is working with BLM to address challenges of providing recreational access to land locked public lands.  Much of Montana has a checkerboard smattering of private and public lands including BLM. Most allotments are comprised of a public-private split in ownership as well, creating a complex situation to manage agricultural operations, manage wildlife habitats, and manage recreational use of these incredible natural resources.  Working alongside BLM and MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Pheasants Forever is working on a pilot program to address the challenge of providing and managing recreational access in a landscape of mixed ownership.

Pheasants Forever has hired two specialists to build relationships with landowners to identify challenges and opportunities in allowing access across private property into public lands. From these landowner conversations, PF has developed an Adopt-a-Ranch idea where chapter members and other conservation organizations volunteer their time to aid landowners with projects in exchange for public access.  A single project opened access to nearly 20,000 acres of land locked public lands which was a mix of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge lands and BLM property. Additionally, PF has been able to use an access program for landowners offered by MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to enroll several properties with access easements totaling 38,000 acres.

Southwest Sagebrush Restoration Project

The southernmost extent of the sagebrush biome contains habitat for several upland bird species like chukar, California quail and scaled quail, while also overlapping with critical wintering areas and big game migration corridors for mule deer and elk. In 2018, a Secretarial Order provided an opportunity to focus on habitat restoration for this massive region.

Since that time, Quail Forever has worked with BLM and other partners to implement projects benefitting upland birds and big game species. Focusing efforts on working with historically underserved landowners and BLM leases in north central New Mexico, the partnership has resulted in 7 projects improving wildlife-friendly fencing for more than 11 miles. In Arizona, Quail Forever assisted with National Environmental Policy Act planning efforts to allow for the improvement of 30,000 acres of sagebrush habitat and restoration activities for 500 acres of juniper removal along an identified wildlife migration corridor.

These efforts have allowed the partnership with Quail Forever and BLM to expand south into critical quail and lesser prairie chicken habitats where we have partnered with BLM and others to treat 1,000 acres of mesquite in scaled quail and lesser prairie chicken habitat near Roswell.

The Public-Private Habitat Mosaic

Nowhere in North America is the public-private lands habitat mosaic more visible than western landscapes where large swaths of public lands intersect with ranches and sagebrush flats extending to the horizon. Within these vistas and along public-private borders, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are joining partners to make a substantial impact for access, rural communities, and the iconic species found west of the Missouri River.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever look forward to providing more updates in the future as new projects unfold!