It’s an example of how ranchers and the federal government can cooperate in a win-win effort that keeps grazing lands productive for both cattle and wildlife. And it’s been years in the making.
But it has come to fruition, at least as far as sage grouse conservation is concerned. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will increase its partnership with ranchers to invest in conserving sage grouse habitat while keeping working ranches working. The four-year strategy, called the Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 (SGI 2.0), follows up on the already-successful Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) that began in 2010. SGI 2.0 will invest approximately $211 million in conservation efforts on public and private lands throughout 11 Western states.
“Ranchers across the West appreciate the continued partnership with NRCS through the Sage Grouse Initiative,” said Brenda Richards, Public Lands Council (PLC) president and rancher from southern Idaho. “As the original stewards of our Western lands, ranchers work day-in and day-out to maintain healthy rangelands and conserve our natural resources for the generations to come. The Sage Grouse Initiative has proven itself to be a win-win for livestock producers and the grouse, and the partnership through 2018 will support the continuation of the successful conservation efforts already underway.”
Sage grouse are found in 11 states across the western half of the United States, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming and the bird’s habitat encompasses 186 million acres of public and private land. In 2010, the SGI launched and has helped ranchers implement increased conservation efforts on their land, benefiting both the grouse habitat and rangeland for livestock ranchers.
Since its launch in 2010, public and private partners engaged in the SGI have conserved 4.4 million acres, an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park, using voluntary and incentive-based approaches for conservation. Between 2010 and 2014, NRCS invested $296.5 million into SGI, which partners matched with an additional $198 million. By the end of 2018 with implementation of the SGI 2.0 strategy, NRCS and partners will invest approximately $760 million and conserve 8 million acres, an area more than seven times the size of the Great Salt Lake.
According to NCBA, due to lawsuits and litigation, the sage grouse is currently at risk of being listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA has not been reauthorized since 1988 and NCBA and PLC believe the rather than listing the grouse under the ESA, efforts like the Sage Grouse Initiative will benefit the bird more and prove that listing is not the answer.
“The Endangered Species Act is outdated and has proven itself ineffective,” says NCBA President Philip Ellis, who ranches in Wyoming. “Of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than 2% have ever been deemed recovered. With this partnership, voluntary conservation efforts have increased, ranchers remain on the land, and wildlife habitat is thriving. In fact, Interior Secretary Jewell announced this year that through working with ranchers and other stakeholders in Nevada and California, the Bi-State Sage Grouse population was no longer at risk and was not listed under the ESA. This is prime example of how land management and conservation efforts should be made, in partnership with those who know the land the best, not by bureaucrats in Washington D.C.”
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