Coyote removal: can the short-term application of a controversial management tool improve female greater sage-grouse survival or nest success?

8 September 2017

Orning, Elizabeth; Young, Julie

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have declined across western North America, intensifying the need for ecological research that enhances management and conservation goals. Predator-prey interactions can have widespread ecological effects but there is a paucity of information about predator effects on sage-grouse ecology. During a two-year study from 2011-2012, we modified the existing framework designed for predator management to test the effects of coyote (Canis latrans) removal on female sage-grouse survival and nest success in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, USA, where coyotes were found to be the dominant predator. We used VHF radio-telemetry to monitor female survival and locate nests over pre-treatment and treatment breeding seasons, and for 1-year post-treatment to the next breeding season. During treatment, we manipulated predator management at three sites to have targeted, non-targeted, and no coyote removal. Female survival remained constant over the nesting period when treatment was applied, and there were little differences between 1-year pre- (S ̂ = 0.64, 90% CI = 0.38, 0.90) and 1-year post-treatment survival estimates (S ̂ = 0.71, 90% CI = 0.55, 0.87) at the targeted coyote removal site. No differences were detected in the daily survival rates of nests relative to coyote removal. We conclude removing coyotes, the primary predator of nests and adult females identified within this system, did not improve female survival or nest success. However, long-term monitoring is recommended to provide a more robust understanding of this complex relationship.