USDA promotes sage-grouse protection efforts in West


USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced that efforts to partner with ranchers and farmers in 11 Western states to protect the greater and Gunnison sage-grouse are significantly improving habitat for the species and reducing threats that will eventually help to increase their overall population.

"Working together with Western farmers and ranchers, we are creating a landscape where this declining species can not only survive, but will one day thrive," White said. "The steps we have taken are already yielding powerful results and providing affirmation that we can maintain and improve working lands while also nurturing species like the sage-grouse that need our attention."

To support this ongoing partnership, NRCS is providing up to $30 million in fiscal 2011 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and the Wetlands Reserve Program to help farmers and ranchers continue implementing conservation practices to protect sage-grouse populations and habitat in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The following fiscal 2010 accomplishments are a direct result of producers' efforts to improve sage-grouse populations and habitat:

* Producers marked or removed 180 miles of wire fencing near leks where sage-grouse carry out display and courtship behavior. This prevented between 800-1,000 sage-grouse collisions, which is equal to all male sage-grouse counted on leks annually in California, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington in the U.S. and Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.

* Producers managed 640,000 acres of grazing lands to improve sage-grouse hiding cover during nesting season. This additional grass cover is expected to increase sage-grouse populations between 8 - 10 percent.

* Producers removed 40,000 acres of encroaching conifer from otherwise suitable sage-grouse habitat in key breeding, brood-rearing and wintering sites.

These accomplishments were made possible through the focused effort USDA launched in March 2010 to provide a holistic approach to conserving sage-grouse and sustaining working ranches in the West. USDA obligated $18.5 million in fiscal 2010 in response to tremendous demand by ranchers and farmers.

NRCS collaborated with the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) this summer to provide confidence to landowners who enroll in NRCS programs to benefit sage-grouse. This action means that ranchers and farmers can continue operating even if the greater and Gunnison sage-grouse are listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act. To continue operating, eligible ranchers and farmers must follow the conservation practices outlined in a recent conference report written by NRCS and FWS as part of the Department of the Interior and USDA's ongoing efforts to protect the sage-grouse.

A suite of 40 conservation practices were amended to ensure they were beneficial to the sage-grouse, including upland habitat management, prescribed grazing and brush management for the removal of juniper.

In recent years, the Gunnison and greater sage-grouse species populations and habitat have declined significantly due to habitat fragmentation; urban development; energy extraction, generation and transmission; invasive weeds; and pinyon-juniper tree encroachment.

Below is a breakdown of financial assistance funding being provided to states in fiscal 2011:

For more information about USDA's sage-grouse efforts, please visit