Notice of permit

Regional or Local Number: GRA-2016-21766

Notice is hereby given that pursuant to the provisions of section 74 of the Species at Risk Act permit no. GRA-2016-21766 is issued.

Purpose:
Scientific research for the conservation of the species

Description:
The University of Alberta is actively undertaking a project in conjunction with Grasslands National Park to develop effective methods to enhance and restore sagebrush grasslands as habitat for the greater sage grouse in southern Saskatchewan. The goal of the project is to create high quality greater sage grouse habitat on currently sub optimal grassland. The project includes experimental research and active enhancement resulting in development of best management practices for enhancement and restoration of greater sage grouse habitat. The research will require destructive sampling for the aging of approximately 116 silver sagebrush plants and removal of native grasses and forbs (approximate total area 459 m2) around planted silver sagebrush plugs. This sampling and removal of native grasses will contravene the Emergency Order for the Protection of Greater Sage-grouse (EPO).

Start Date: 2016-04-01   End Date: 2025-12-01

Issuing Authority: Parks Canada Agency

Authority Used:

  • Species at Risk Act
  • Canada National Parks Act

Location of Activity (province, territory or ocean):

  • Saskatchewan

Affected Species:

Pre-Conditions:
Alternatives: Other alternatives were considered but not found feasible: 1. Coring silver sagebrush: Coring is an aging method that can be effectively used on tree species without killing the individual. This method was investigated for use on sagebrush, but was deemed ineffective. Silver sagebrush grows multiple stems from one main stem. Each secondary stem also forms rings but will only do so when the branch was first formed (potentially years after the main stem formed). Therefore, the branching growth habit of silver sagebrush requires that the main stem is sampled below ground to get an accurate age estimate. Additionally, silver sagebrush will form open areas within the stem, which would make age determination without a full cross section of the stem impossible. 2. Sampling or planting only outside of EPO area: Although sampling of silver sagebrush completely outside of the area in which the EPO applies would be ideal, this is not entirely possible as the areas with the most silver sagebrush occupancy are within the identified critical habitat and fall within the EPO area. It is essential that those stands sampled for density and cover are also those from which individuals are sampled for age as we expect some growth parameters to be directly related to age. However, where possible, stands outside of the EPO area will be selected for measurement and sampling (Refer to 5.). Planting of silver sagebrush plugs outside of the EPO area is not efficient as the purpose of the planting is to create high quality habitat on suboptimal grasslands to increase greater sage grouse occupancy. The areas within the EPO have the highest current occupancy and therefore greatest potential for restoration success. 3. Not aging sagebrush: Without age measurements, the model will only be useful for a conversion between sagebrush density and cover. One of the key questions is how long it will take planted or seeded silver sagebrush to achieve the ideal habitat requirements (density and cover) for the greater sage grouse. For greater sage grouse recovery to be successful, quick and effective habitat restoration is required. Information gained from aging silver sagebrush plants will result in better land management decisions and more effective allocation of resources to aid greater sage grouse recovery. 4. Not removing vegetation around planted plugs: Growing and planting silver sagebrush plugs is expensive, however, plugs overcome the limitations of seed germination and emergence where it is estimated that only 5-6 % of seeds result in a plant. As the greater sage grouse population is declining at an exponential rate, methods which accelerate habitat recovery are needed. The highest mortality for plugs is in the first year due to competition and drought. Not removing vegetation would significantly reduce plug survival and waste already limited financial resources spent on their development and planting. Therefore this was not considered a feasible option. Mitigations: Measures will be taken to mitigate disturbance of greater sage grouse habitat: 1. Using silver sagebrush stands with known age: There are a few areas within Grasslands National Park where the age of silver sagebrush plants are known as they were planted or seeded (i.e. Gergovia restoration fields, University of Alberta research plots, enhancement planting sites) and thus other data can be collected on these plants without needing to destroy them. Use of these sites as part of the study will reduce the total number of silver sagebrush plants that need to be destructively sampled to create a robust model. 2. Not sampling and planting within proximity of leks: None of the silver sagebrush plant sampling or planting will be conducted within 3.2 km of a known active lek. 3. Sampling in silver sagebrush stands outside the EPO area: Sampling within the critical habitat is essential as this is where the majority of silver sagebrush stands are found at varying densities within the Park. Sampling a gradient of stand densities, cover and ages is also critical for success. If appropriate silver sagebrush stands of required densities are located within critical habitat but outside of the EPO area, sampling will occur outside of the EPO area. Detailed surveys will be conducted in spring 2017 and final stands to be sampled identified. 4. Minimizing number of samples taken or area disturbed: The number of silver sagebrush plants to be sampled in the experimental protocol has been reduced to only the number absolutely necessary to develop a model that will be informative and robust. If the number of individuals sampled is lowered, the model will lose statistical power and will not be as accurate and therefore not as useful for our purposes. Individuals will be sampled from areas under different grazing intensity (5 levels) and across a range of sagebrush stand densities (6 levels). Within each stand a 10 x 10 m area will be established and density and cover assessed, for a total of 0.009 km2, which is less than 0.001 % of the total 1,402 km2 area of greater sage grouse critical habitat identified in Saskatchewan. Of this, only 5 % of individuals within a stand will be destructively sampled for aging. Based on the maximum stem density of silver sagebrush reported in Saskatchewan (5 stems m-2), and the range of stand densities to be sampled, the maximum possible number of individuals to be aged is 233. It is more likely that the median number of individuals within each density range will be encountered, and therefore a more realistic number of individuals to be sampled will be in the range of 116. Based on planting of 6,500 silver sagebrush plugs, a total maximum area of 459 m2, dispersed over a much larger area, would have herbaceous vegetation removed from it. This would be the maximum as some plugs will be planted in groups of two or three and this would reduce the disturbance area. In some planting sites, vegetation may not need to be removed if site was already fairly open. Sites selected for planting are currently suboptimal habitat for greater sage grouse and planting will hopefully increase the area’s occupancy. Jeopardy to Survival or Recovery of the Species: The Greater sage-grouse population and distribution from the 2014 amended recovery strategy are: 1. Immediately, stop the decline of the adult Sage-Grouse population in Canada. 2. In the short-term, reverse the population decline, and increase the number of active leks, in both Alberta and Saskatchewan. 3. In the long-term, achieve a stable or increasing Sage-Grouse population in Canada of • at least 1095 adult Sage-Grouse, among 16 or more active leks in Alberta, and • at least 1500 adult Sage-Grouse, among 20 or more active leks in Saskatchewan. The proposed study addresses three of the strategies for recovery: habitat assessment and management, research, and communication, collaboration and engagement (between Grasslands National Park and University of Alberta). The research is being conducted to help the recovery of Greater sage-grouse. Due to minimal loss of sagebrush individuals, with no destruction of critical habitat, this project will not impact individual sage-grouse nor will it impact the Park’s ability to achieve its population and distribution objectives for the Greater sage-grouse.

Contact Person(s)
Parks Canada
Species Conservation and Management
Natural Resource Conservation
Parks Canada
30 Victoria Street 3rd floor
Gatineau, QC
J8X 0B3
Tel: 888-773-8888
Fax: 819-420-9273
pca_sar.registrycomments@pc.gc.ca

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