Great news from the Sage Grouse Initiative:
On September 22, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that voluntary sage grouse partnerships helped prevent ESA listing of the greater sage grouse.
An historic conservation partnership helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine that the greater sage grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. Led by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) is a key catalyst for the voluntary, partnership-based work that is conserving America’s sagebrush sea.
Like the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, SGI is one of several NRCS landscape conservation initiatives. The greater sage grouse and lesser prairie-chicken are two of seven species targeted for conservation under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) umbrella initiative called Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW).
SGI’s shared vision of wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching provides win-win solutions for ranchers, sage grouse and 350 other wildlife species. With more than 1,100 participating ranches in 11 western states, SGI and its partners have already invested $424.5 million and conserved 4.4 million acres, an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.
SGI’s efforts won’t stop there: NRCS has committed $211 million more towards its new sage grouse investment strategy, dubbed SGI 2.0, through 2018. This investment provides partners with unprecedented certainty that conservation on working lands will continue. With partner contributions, SGI will have conserved or protected an estimated 8 million acres by 2018—an area more than seven times that of the Great Salt Lake. Here’s a sampling of SGI’s outcomes since 2010:
>> Targeting investments: SGI benefits large populations by targeting more than 75 percent of investments inside population strongholds. The remaining quarter maintains connectivity to surrounding habitats.
>> Decreasing exurban development: Conservation easements have increased 18-fold since 2010, reducing subdivision threat on 450,000 acres. Wyoming Governor’s energy policy and subdivision-halting easements together reduce anticipated bird losses by two-thirds.
>> Reducing cultivation of grazing lands: Farm Bill “Sodsaver” provision cut by half the risk of cultivation of large intact sagebrush grazing lands. Easements in Montana help maintain the longest-known sage grouse migration by reducing cultivation risk by 34 percent.
>> Restoring habitat quality: Invasive conifers have been removed on 400,000 acres. Two-thirds of the conifer threat has been alleviated on private lands in Oregon. Science shows that cuts maintain grouse populations in otherwise suitable habitat.
>> Improving rangeland health: SGI has enhanced rangeland health by applying grazing systems, re-vegetating former rangeland with sagebrush and perennial grasses, and controlling invasive weeds on more than 2.4 million acres. Proactively marking or moving high risk fences prevents 2,600 fence collisions annually.
>> Providing regulatory predictability: SGI provides peace of mind to ranchers. SGI has worked with the FWS to ensure that landowners who maintain NRCS conservation systems remain compliant with Endangered Species Act provisions.
>> Benefiting other species: SGI conserves the sagebrush ecosystem and its 350 other wildlife species. In Oregon, sagebrush-dependent songbirds climbed 55-81 percent in places where invading juniper trees were removed for sage grouse. In Wyoming, proactive measures for sage grouse also conserved 75 percent of habitats for migratory mule deer.
Conservation work—both on public and private lands—is providing wins for wildlife across the country, from sage grouse and cottontails to black bears and native fish. We’ve recently celebrated decisions not to list the New England cottontail, the genetically distinct population of greater sage-grouse on the California-Nevada border, the Arctic grayling, and the proposed delisting of the Louisiana black bear.
All of these successes show that partnering with private landowners on targeted, voluntary conservation projects has tremendous positive impacts for wildlife, clean water, and healthy soil.