$40 Million to Help Ranchers Restore Sage Grouse Habitat

Jamie JohansenAg Group, environment, Government, Policy, Ranches

USDA_logoThere will be $40 million available to help ranchers and other partners in 11 western states restore and protect sagebrush habitat for greater sage-grouse on privately-owned land. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this investment is part of USDA’s four-year, $211 million Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 through the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership. The WLFW partnership uses seven focus species, including sage grouse, to steer public and private conservation investments that improve struggling landscapes and strengthen agricultural operations.

“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.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses the Sage Grouse Initiative to build on the success of $296.5 million invested with farmers and ranchers in 11 Western States for sage grouse habitat conservation from 2010-2014. The assistance helps ranchers enhance sagebrush habitat by making conservation improvements, like removal of invading conifers and invasive grasses that also improve grazing operations. The partnership also helps ranchers protect other critical habitat, such as wet meadows, by enrolling land into voluntary conservation easements.

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.

In addition to the Sage Grouse Initiative, Vilsack also announced more than $10 million available in 2016 to support six other WLFW initiatives for focus species across the country including the New England cottontail, southwestern willow flycatcher, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, bog turtle and lesser prairie-chicken.