Realizing Working Lands and Wildlife in Sagebrush Country

The Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) would like to thank U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, partners, and ranchers for all of their great work and dedication to conserving sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem in 2016. The positive momentum for SGI’s proactive, voluntary conservation model has continued to grow following the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service’s (FWS) 2015 decision not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to the many partners, SGI is proving that this new paradigm of cooperative conservation is making a difference for wildlife and working lands.

Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT) Field Staff

The SWAT field staff continued to expand and accelerate SGI conservation delivery this quarter with support from local and state NRCS staff, funding partners, and the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV). The team’s dedicated and enthusiastic range conservationists, wildlife biologists, and natural resource specialists not only help get conservation on the ground but also spread the shared vision of achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching throughout the West. Below are some of the incredible highlights from the SWAT field staff and the IWJV’s efforts to support SGI delivery this reporting period.

Conservation Implementation

The IWJV maintains a detailed tracking system to document SWAT field staff progress on a quarterly basis. These contributions are rolled up with other NRCS actions and reported to the FWS, during the annual sage grouse status review process, to ensure landowner and partner efforts are considered in Endangered Species Act listing decision reviews.

Partner Positions Accelerate Conservation — Additional field capacity support provided by SWAT partner positions across the West has essentially enabled NRCS to double the amount of SGI conservation. Partner staff have helped plan or implement:

  • 2,485,699 acres of rangeland improvement to increase sage grouse hiding cover during nesting season. Additional grass cover is expected to increase sage grouse populations by eight to ten percent.
  • 318,293 acres of conifer removal in key nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering habitats. Removing encroaching conifers from sagebrush rangelands eliminates tall structures in otherwise suitable habitat. As birds re-colonize former habitats, increased bird abundance is anticipated.
  • 219 miles of “high-risk” fence near leks to be marked or removed. Marking fences is expected to reduce sage grouse fence collisions by 83%.

The original SGI SWAT agreement will soon be coming to a close, and during the third quarter of 2016, the next round of funding was launched through SGI 2.0. With this new funding, NRCS continues to maintain its commitment to using science to target sage grouse conservation projects and practices. In addition, we are building field capacity, expanding the science team, and strengthening partnerships across the western sagebrush landscape.