Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the USDA is making $40 million available to ranchers and other partners in 11 western states restore and protect sagebrush habitat for greater sage-grouse on privately-owned land. This comes as par to their four-year Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 through Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership.
“The decisions of agricultural producers have powerful impacts on wildlife and the long-term health of their own land, and the partnerships formed through our Working Lands for Wildlife initiative have had proven success for bringing back several of America’s native species,” Vilsack said. “By managing ranches with sage grouse and other wildlife in mind, producers also strengthen their own operations, boost resilience and increase agricultural yields.”
Conservation efforts on private lands work. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined in September 2015 that the sage grouse population was healthy enough that it did not warrant protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—the result of the unprecedented collaboration in public and private rangeland restoration.
Since 2010, ranchers and other private conservation partners participating in the Sage Grouse Initiative have restored and improved 4.4 million acres, benefitting not just the sage grouse, but 350 wildlife species that call the sagebrush landscape their home. Recent data show two sagebrush songbirds that share habitat with sage grouse also saw population increases following restoration activities. One of the birds, the green-tailed towhee, experienced an 81 percent population increase.
Besides Sage Grouse, The USDA has also worked in partnership with the WLFW to protect New England cottontail, southwester willow flycatcher, gold-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, bog turtle and lesser prairie-chicken. WLFW has also assisted land owners restore forested wetlands in Louisiana and stream restoration with landowners in Oregon.