Sage Grouse Initiative
The Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), launched in 2010 by the NRCS, has quickly become one of the largest conservation success stories in the west. It's a win-win program to conserve world class wildlife and sustainable ranching.
SGI harnesses the power of the Farm Bill to strategically focus budgets and partner matches. The goal is to shore up the best private land habitat for sage grouse by helping landowners make improvements so their livelihoods will be healthy, too.
The incentive for the Initiative came on the heels of the March, 2010 designation of the sage grouse as a “candidate” species for listing as “threatened or endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed final consideration of listing until 2015, providing time to take a voluntary and non-regulatory approach to recover a bird in trouble.
The Sage Grouse Initiative is an excellent example of how NRCS is orchestrating a paradigm shift in recovery for at-risk species. Instead of regulatory burdens, the Initiative takes a voluntary approach that benefits agriculture and sage grouse – along with a suite of other wildlife species too, from pronghorn to mule deer.
Why Sage Grouse Need Help
Sage grouse may have once numbered as many as 16 million birds inhabiting western sagebrush lands before settlement. Today, there are fewer than 200,000. Without help, dwindling populations face serious obstacles to recovery, from land and energy development to altered wildfire patterns.
Why Ranchers Need Assistance Too
Ranchers and farmers across the west are struggling to keep operations thriving in the face of estate taxes, pressures from changing land uses, and other challenges. It makes good sense to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list by taking a non-regulatory approach that benefits ranchers and farmers too.
The Initiative belongs not to one agency, but to a long list of partners who are delivering landscape-level conservation. The work is helping private landowners in eleven western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
At the core of the efforts to efficiently target money and resources to help ranchers and grouse is a map that’s pure science. In fact, the map features the core breeding areas remaining in 11 western states, information gathered meticulously in the field and processed as a major partnership project.
The areas with the highest densities of breeding grouse are the focal points for Farm Bill spending. Science also informs success by tracking how well programs work on the ground and making adjustments as needed.
Success Where it Matters Most
In just two years, the Sage Grouse Initiative has enrolled 400+ landowners and achieved impressive results that are benefiting ranchers, sage grouse, and the many other wildlife species that rely on the same habitats.
- New grazing systems on more than a million acres are helping grass flourish and providing nesting cover for grouse.
- Marking and moving fences will prevent as many as 2,000 sage grouse collisions and deaths.
- Projects that remove junipers encroaching on sagebrush country are leading to expanded and better habitat for grouse and grazing for cattle.
- Conservation easements on more than 200,000 acres are keeping large ranches intact in some of the areas of highest sage grouse abundance
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