Sage grouse conservation receives $211 million | RecordCourier.com

Sage grouse conservation receives $211 million

Staff Reports

Greater sage grouse conservation on private lands will receive another $211 million through the Sage Grouse Initiative over the next three years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service issued the announcement on Thursday morning.

The bird is under consideration for listing as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A report issued last week by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies suggested the bird's populations are on the rebound after a period of cyclical decline.

"Private landowners are the cornerstone for wildlife habitat conservation efforts in our country," said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. "The newly announced NRCS investments for working lands in the West will continue to support the livelihoods of ranchers and producers, while providing extraordinary benefits for sage grouse and other wildlife. SGI continues to thrive as a model for wildlife conservation, and we are thrilled to support NRCS and its partners as we move forward in restoring this iconic upland bird."

Across the bird's range, private lands encompass slightly more than 30 percent of remaining sage-grouse habitat, so sportsmen's groups are praising this commitment of resources to a new phase of conservation efforts on farms and ranches.

It's true that the percentage of private lands encompassing sage-grouse habitat varies greatly by state — from a 15 percent in Nevada to nearly 70 percent in Montana — but experts agree that these private lands are vital for the bird. Studies indicate that 85 percent of sage-grouse leks are found within six miles of riparian habitat, most of which is located on private lands.

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"Conservationists and landowners across the West are starting to see real results on the ground for sage-grouse conservation and sustainable ranching because of what the SGI has already accomplished," said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "We're happy to see this commitment from the NRCS continue, and Congress should ensure long-term funding of this important initiative and others that protect the healthy sagebrush ecosystem we know is so critical to wildlife, sportsmen's access, and the outdoor economy."

Since its inception in 2010, the NRCS reports the initiative has invested nearly half a billion dollars into sage-grouse conservation efforts on private lands encompassing 1,129 ranches in 11 Western states. A subspecies of the bird, the bistate sage grouse lives in Douglas County. That species was considered for protection, but was ultimately found not to require listing.