When it came time to pick a doctoral program, Andrew Olsen admits he was very choosy.
He wanted to study bird conservation, and Oregon State University has been a longtime partner in the Sage Grouse Initiative, which covers 11 western states and targets 78 million acres of intact sagebrush harboring the highest number of birds.
“It’s a big commitment, four or five years,” said Olsen, a graduate student at Oregon State University and winner of the 2017 Donald H. Rusch Memorial Game Bird Scholarship. “I was interested in the Sage Grouse Initiative because of the problems that it is trying to address and the practical, applied science to solve those problems.”
The Sage Grouse Initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, formed in 2010 as a partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities and nonprofit groups working together with a shared vision of achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching.
The Rusch Scholarship is awarded annually by The Wildlife Society to a graduate student studying any aspect of upland game bird or waterfowl biology and management. Olsen has been working on research supported by the Sage Grouse Initiative since he enrolled at OSU in the winter of 2015.
Olsen’s research at OSU focuses on the effect of western juniper on greater sage-grouse demographics and movements. Conifer encroachment is considered a threat to sage-grouse populations and wide spread removal of conifers, including western juniper, has become a common conservation practice across much of sage-grouse range. Olsen is documenting the response of sage-grouse to landscape-scale conifer removal near Lakeview, Oregon. So far, around 30,000 acres have been cut at his study site since 2012.
He ties his passion for sage-grouse conservation efforts back to hunting trips with his father in Montana. He was 6 years old.
“I can remember tagging along with my father and watching him hunt for sage-grouse in the middle of the day when he took a break from antelope hunting,” Olsen said. “When I got into high school, sage-grouse conservation became a big issue and it piqued my interest even more.”
Sage-grouse are interesting study subjects, Olsen said, because they live longer than most game birds, generally six to eight years. Their longevity and low productivity make them more sensitive to hunting than other game birds, he said.