In the pre-settlement day, sage grouse numbered in the millions; today, their populations have slipped to about 200,000. Yet luckily, much of the ideal sage-grouse habitat is found on private ranchlands and what’s good for rangelands is often good for grouse. As such, ranchers and wildlife conservationists share a vision for conserving sagebrush habitats important to sage grouse and are collaborating extensively through the Sage Grouse Initiative.
Sagebrush. It’s an under-appreciated habitat that is essential for the Greater Sage-Grouse. Now more so than ever, this gangly bird is drawing attention as it is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. In 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the Sage Grouse Initiative to strategically conserve sagebrush habitat. SGI focuses on conserving the habitat for sage grouse and other world-class wildlife populations through sustainable ranching.
The goal of SGI is to conserve sage-grouse populations through sustainable ranching in 11 Western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Instead of trying to tackle all of the threats to the species in a massive land area, SGI partners are using a “conservation triage” approach. To do so, they target activities in core areas to maintain large and intact grazing lands rather than provide palliative care to small and declining populations.
SGI targets Farm Bill resources to high sage-grouse abundance centers, or “core areas”, to maintain large and intact habitats rather than providing palliative care to small and declining populations.
SGI focuses on removing threats to sage grouse populations, which includes conifer encroachment, subdivision, tillage, inadequate nesting cover, and fence collisions, among others. Conservation practices include installing include using sustainable grazing systems to improve hiding cover for birds, marking or moving “high risk” fences near breeding sites to reduce bird collisions, and removing invasive conifers from sagebrush grasslands to allow re-colonization of otherwise suitable sage-grouse habitat.
The speed of success matches the scale: 700+ ranchers enrolled; investments of $145 million generate $70 million in matching contributions; conservation easements reduce sodbusting and subdivision threat on 240,000+ acres; new grazing systems increase hiding cover for nesting birds on 2+ million acres; removal of invading conifers restores historic sagebrush on 200,000 acres, and marking or removing 500+ miles of high-risk fences prevent bird collisions.
A SGI Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT) was established in 2011 to build field capacity and strengthen the science guiding SGI. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at multiple levels, manages the SWAT to achieve the following:
- Increase field-level capacity by placing specialized human skill sets at critical geographic “pinch points” to increase SGI benefits.
- Increase science capacity to better focus SGI implementation, assess biological outcomes, and continually improve program delivery.
- Improve and enhance outreach and communication strategies to increase partner buy-in and SGI participation from landowners.
- Expand SGI partnership to further leverage NRCS contributions resulting in increased outcomes and participation.
The SGI SWAT is building critical field capacity, science, and communications capacity for the initiative in a way that enhances the durability and longevity of the most advanced of NRCS’ 10 national Conservation Initiatives. The SGI SWAT was originally envisioned as a three-year effort but was extended by NRCS and the FWS last year for two additional years, and will now run through December 1, 2016.
In summary, the funding in SWAT capacity over five years supports NRCS and agricultural producers in delivering approximately $50 million per year in science-based, on-the-ground SGI conservation practices in key sagebrush landscapes across the West!
For information on the SGI and SWAT, contact: Ken Sambor (firstname.lastname@example.org)NGPJV Coordinator; Dave Smith (Dave_W_Smith@fws.gov) IWJV Coordinator; or Tim Griffiths (Tim.Griffiths@mt.usda.gov), NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative Coordinator,
or visit the Sage Grouse Initiative Visit the Sage Grouse Initiative website.