Ranchers, agencies knuckle down to help sage-grouse

Ranchers team up with agencies to get funding for Sage Grouse habitat conservation.

Read full article here (by Lauren Donovan in the Bismarck Tribune)

"... It’s been two springs since the Brookses have seen a sage grouse on their ranch, not surprising given that the number of these gorgeously iconic birds in North Dakota never has been lower.

The official count just released by the state Game and Fish Department is down to 31 males, compared to historic highs of more than 500 and more than 200 a decade ago.

The Brookses, who ranch in the birds’ core range north of Rhame, are doing what they can in cooperation with their local Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil Conservation District to reverse that decline.

The Brookses and other participating ranchers, along with people like NRCS district conservationist Wendy Bartholomay and Soil Conservation District watershed coordinator Cami Janikowski, are trying to run interference to help prevent the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species.

That decision is hovering on the brink. Barring any congressionally imposed delay, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to make that decision within 18 months.

Rob and Holly Brooks, along with other ranchers in the Bowman-Slope area, have participated in NRCS and SCD grass and sage brush planting programs, started fencing and grazing plans that leave more grass habitat in the fall, installed quiet solar-powered pumps in cattle water tanks and escape ramps in those tanks, and hung bird deflectors on barbed wire fence.

All these voluntary programs, done at a cost of about $2 million since 2010, are intended to make the western portions of Bowman and Slope counties more hospitable to the birds while improving the range at the same time...

“I don’t know if we can keep them from going extinct, but there are things we can do to help them survive,” he said.

Back at the joint NRCS and SCD office in Bowman, Bartholomay and Janikowski say ranchers more than anyone want to see the sage grouse flourish.

“They don’t want to see a species go extinct. It is frustrating that the bird count numbers are down with all the work they’ve put in. It is a big weight on the private landowners’ shoulders,” Janikowski said...

Kevin Shelley, USFWS acting director in North Dakota, said it will take all agency and landowners’ hands on deck to avoid listing the bird.

“We’re all trying to do this together. We’re all stakeholders,” he said. Because North Dakota, in particular the western third of Bowman, Slope and Golden Valley counties, are in the fringe range, variability in the birds’ count is normal..."