A local Yamaha dealer is providing two ATVs to Utah State University researchers to help study the interactions between sage grouse and motorized recreation.
Cache Honda Yamaha in Hyde Park is giving USU the ATVs on Friday and $12,500 in funding as part of Yamaha’s Outdoor Access Initiative.
Richard West, sales and finance manager at Cache Honda Yamaha, said it was important for his dealer to provide the ATVs so USU and U.S. Bureau of Land Management can “work together along with OHV enthusiasts to keep the roads open for recreational use but still maintaining areas for sage grouse to be able to repopulate.”
The BLM has been working on the Sheeprock Sage-grouse Management Area Sage-grouse Conservation Initiative with USU since 2016.
Terry Messmer, USU professor of wildland management who is leading the research, said ATVs have a smaller footprint than trucks and will allow researchers to access more places.
“They’re the mainstay of everything we do in some of the field research because they’re important from the capturing, the handling and monitoring of sage grouse,” Messmer said.
Messmer, an expert in sage grouse, talked in detail about the initiative.
Next year, USU will translocate sage grouse from the Box Elder and Parker sage grouse management areas to the Sheeprock Management Areas.
Researchers will attach GPS transmitters to sage grouse to track their activity. At the same time, they’ll also track OHV use in the Sheeprock management area with traffic counters.
While these devices collect data, USU researchers will survey OHV users on their recreational behavior.
“We can overlay recreation users movements on sage-grouse movements,” Messmer wrote in an email to The Herald Journal. “Once we overlay the two data layers, we can determine areas of compatibility and sources of conflict.”
By “conflict,” Messmer was referring to the seasonal use differences between sage grouse and OHV activity.
Messmer said information from the OHV user surveys and the tracking devices will be used to “develop a travel and use management plan that balances OHV needs with sage-grouse conservation.”
“What we’re trying to do here is rather than make decisions in a vacuum, we’re trying to provide as much information to the land management agencies, to the state wildlife agencies, regarding how these … activities can work together and how we can work together to mitigate the conflicts,” Messmer said.
Sage grouse common in Rich County, and they have been known to mate in areas in Cache County near the Rich County border. Messmer believes Cache Valley residents should pay attention to this research.
“In Cache Valley, there are probably thousands of ATV users that go out and they use public lands for their ATV recreation,” Messmer said. “Most Utahns live within a few miles from public lands where they can go out and recreate … and ride their ATVs.”
He said researchers’ findings related to sage grouse and OHV use could have implications for Cache Valley residents and local wildlife populations.
“I think it will provide us some lessons and also a process,” Messmer said. “How you can go in and you can combine a scientific study with public surveys and … blend both of those things together to create a viable management plan that helps sustain multiple-use of these public lands to include ATVs.”