USDA Works with Ranchers to Save Sage Grouse

John DavisConservation, USDA

Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)A program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working with ranchers in the Western United States to preserve habitat for sage grouse. This USDA news release says the agency, through the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), has partnered with private landowners to restore 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage grouse while maintaining working landscapes across the West, and USDA will invest in new sage grouse conservation work over the next four years.

“We’re working with ranchers who are taking proactive steps to improve habitat for sage-grouse while improving the sustainability of their agricultural operations,” Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said. “Thanks to the interest from ranchers and support of our conservation partners, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working to secure this species’ future while maintaining our vibrant western economies. Since 2010, we’ve worked with ranchers to conserve, restore, or maintain more than 4 million acres of habitat on private lands – an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.”

In the past five years, NRCS has invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat, and has pledged to extend these efforts by approximately $200 million over four years through the conservation programs funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. Additionally, NRCS is piloting use of its Conservation Stewardship Program to broaden the impacts of SGI by targeting up to 275,000 acres to enhance sage-grouse habitat in 2015.

“American ranchers are working with us to help sage-grouse because they know they are helping an at-risk bird while also improving the food available for their livestock,” Bonnie said. “As the saying goes, ‘What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.'”

SGI is an NRCS diverse partnership that includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and private business. Some of the initiative’s efforts include establishing conservation easements that prevent subdivision of large and intact working ranches to improving and restoring habitat through removal of invasive trees.