"The Sage Grouse Initiative has proven itself as a model for how wildlife and agriculture can coexist and thrive in harmony, and that is why we are announcing steps today that will expand this important initiative throughout the life of the 2014 Farm Bill," said Vilsack. "I applaud America's ranchers for their initiative in improving habitats and outcomes for sage grouse and other wildlife, and for their recognition that these efforts are also good for cattle, good for ranching operations, and good for America's rural economy."
Since its launch in 2010, public and private partners engaged in the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) have conserved 4.4 million acres, an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park, using voluntary and incentive-based approaches for conservation. Between 2010 and 2014, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) invested $296.5 million into SGI, which partners matched with an additional $198 million. By the end of 2018 with implementation of the SGI 2.0 strategy, NRCS and partners will invest approximately $760 million and conserve 8 million acres, an area more than seven times the size of the Great Salt Lake.
NRCS leaders from California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming worked with conservation partners to develop the four-year strategy.
The wildfires devastating Western communities also impact habitat for wildlife like sage grouse. Under the SGI 2.0 strategy, NRCS will focus on reducing the threat of wildfire and spread of invasive grasses after fires to restore wildlife habitat and quality livestock forage. The strategy will also focus on removing encroaching conifers, protecting rangeland from exurban development and cultivation, protecting mesic habitats like wet meadows, and reducing fence collisions.
While in Oregon, Vilsack will meet with conservation partners, ranchers, and government officials who have worked through SGI to conserve sage grouse habitat. Oregon has seen success in sage grouse habitat conservation, especially through the targeted removal of conifer trees that invade sagebrush habitat. Through SGI, NRCS has helped Oregon ranchers address more than two-thirds of the conifer problem on private lands in the state's priority areas, and with SGI 2.0, anticipates 95 percent removal on priority private lands by 2018.
"The Sage Grouse Initiative is making a difference because private landowners voluntarily work with us to produce results on the ground," Vilsack said. "The decisions Western ranchers and other private landowners make every day about what to do on their land will continue to have a critical impact on sage grouse."
SGI conservation practices are targeted to ensure maximum benefits in the areas where they are implemented, and this focus will continue in SGI 2.0. During the past five years, SGI has increased conservation easements 18-fold and strategically located them in priority landscapes that contain the majority of the birds. These easements not only protect important lands but help stitch together the broader landscape, connecting public and private lands into a footprint of healthy habitats.
These voluntary conservation practices work. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined the Bi-State sage-grouse, a subpopulation of the greater sage-grouse along the California-Nevada border, did not require listing because of the conservation efforts of NRCS and partners proactively working to conserve the species. This success is seen nationwide, evidenced in the recent decisions not to list the Arctic grayling in Montana, the proposed delisting of the black bear in Louisiana, and the recent delisting of the Oregon chub.
The deteriorating health of the sagebrush habitat and the greater sage-grouse has sparked an unprecedented, collaborative federal-state partnership. This comprehensive approach includes strong conservation plans for state and private lands, strong federal conservation plans, and an effective strategy to reduce rangeland fire risk.
Learn more about NRCS' sage grouse conservation efforts. To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.
USDA Announces New $211-Million Investment in Sage Grouse Conservation on Private Lands A new round of funding will go towards the Sage Grouse Initiative’s improvements to sagebrush habitat and sustainable ranching practices
WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced they will invest another $211 million in support of greater sage-grouse conservation on private lands through the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) over the next 3 years. Across the bird’s range, private lands encompass slightly more than 30 percent of remaining sage-grouse habitat, so sportsmen’s groups are praising this commitment of resources to a new phase of conservation efforts on farms and ranches.“Private landowners are the cornerstone for wildlife habitat conservation efforts in our country,” stated Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Foreverand Quail Forever. “The newly announced NRCS investments for working lands in the West will continue to support the livelihoods of ranchers and producers, while providing extraordinary benefits for sage grouse and other wildlife. SGI continues to thrive as a model for wildlife conservation, and we are thrilled to support NRCS and its partners as we move forward in restoring this iconic upland bird.”
It’s true that the percentage of private lands encompassing sage-grouse habitat varies greatly by state—from a mere 15 percent in Nevada to nearly 70 percent in Montana—but experts agree that these private lands are vital for the bird. Studies indicate that 85 percent of sage-grouse leks are found within 6 miles of riparian habitat, most of which is located on private lands.
“Conservationists and landowners across the West are starting to see real results on the ground for sage-grouse conservation and sustainable ranching because of what the SGI has already accomplished,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re happy to see this commitment from the NRCS continue, and Congress should ensure long-term funding of this important initiative and others that protect the healthy sagebrush ecosystem we know is so critical to wildlife, sportsmen’s access, and the outdoor economy.”
Since its inception in 2010, the NRCS reports that the SGI has invested nearly half a billion dollars into sage-grouse conservation efforts on private lands encompassing 1,129 ranches in 11 Western states. The SGI has also conserved in perpetuity 360,000 acres of intact habitat faced with the highest threat of conversion. Many of the enrolled ranchers report increased grass cover and weight gain amongst their livestock through the implementation of SGI-sponsored practices.
“The new-age adage of ‘what’s good for the bird is good for the herd’ goes for mule deer and other big game animals, as well as livestock,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “Good management and conservation practices on private land can benefit all wildlife that depend on sagebrush ecosystems.”
The funding for and long-term commitment of private landowners represents just one segment of the collaborative efforts needed to avoid listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. A court-mandated decision on a listing is due by September 30.
“The NRCS and landowners deserve a lot of credit, and this great news is an important step toward reversing the declining trends in habitat and populations we’ve seen for decades,” says Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “But we must also have commitments and buy-in for strong federal and state conservation plans for sage grouse. Those three legs of the stool are absolutely necessary in order to avoid listing the species as endangered. It’s an ‘all-of the-above’ approach that will get us to a successful outcome in September and for years to come.”