What Is the Sage Grouse Initiative?
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA) created the Sage Grouse Initiative based on a key premise: what’s good for ranching is good for sage grouse.
Keeping Sage Grouse off the Endangered Species List –a new paradigm for at-risk species
The Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) is a highly targeted and science-based landscape approach to recover sage grouse and other wildlife by helping ranchers improve and conserve their lands in eleven western states.
SGI uses win-win solutions and partnerships to leverage dollars for on-the-ground conservation. The Natural Resources Conservation Service launched SGI in 2010, applying the power of the Farm Bill to target lands where habitats are intact and sage grouse numbers are highest.
DOWNLOAD THE SGI TRACKING SUCCESS 2013 REPORT FOR A COLORFUL OVERVIEW THAT CAPTURES SIX SECRET INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS. (ON THE HOME PAGE).
The results are pouring in from 11 western states - improving grazing systems, removing encroaching conifers, and adding conservation easements across hundreds of thousands of acres. SGI harnesses the Farm Bill to strategically focus budgets and partner matches. The Initiative covers 56 million acres across 11 western states. While private lands are the primary focus, SGI serves as a catalyst for public land enhancements. Today, the Initiative belongs to the many partners shaping history.
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.
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 a window of time to take a voluntary and non-regulatory approach to bring back 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, inhabiting half their historic range. Divvying up the range into too small of parcels is the main threat. 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
Since 2010, the Sage Grouse Initiative has enrolled 700+ 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 2 million acres are helping grass flourish and providing nesting cover for grouse.
- Marking and moving 500+ miles of fences that save thousands of sage grouse from deadly collisions.
- Removing junipers encroaching on sagebrush country across 200,000+ acres restores historic sagebrush-steppe for grouse.
- Conservation easements on more than 240,000 acres are keeping large ranches intact in some of the areas of highest sage grouse abundance.
Who's On the Lek? A Guide to Players
The Sage Grouse Initiative plays a key role, but not the only role in sage grouse conservation. The team is big and impressive. Please take a look at the Guide to the Players, put together by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.