Sage Grouse Initiative Program and Wildlife Conservation

Sage Grouse are incredibly unique and beautiful birds that are benefiting from this unique new program entitled the Sage Grouse Initiative. Photo by Rick McEwan

Sustainable Ranching is Renewable Goal for Field Staff

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a new paradigm for conserving at-risk wildlife that works through voluntary cooperation, incentives, and community support.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service launched SGI in 2010, applying the power of the Farm Bill to target lands where habitats are intact and sage grouse numbers are highest – covering 78 million acres across 11 western states.  While private lands are the primary focus, the Initiative serves as a catalyst for public land enhancements.  Today, the Initiative belongs to the many partners shaping history.

Working together, we are conserving wildlife habitat and managing ranchlands in ways that also create more nutritious forage for livestock.  We are passing on our western heritage of vast skies, unbroken sagebrush-steppe, and room for wildlife and people to roam.

Conservation easements help protect habitat that is critical to Sage Grouse survival. Photo by Jeremy R. Roberts

SGI is now entering its seventh year, has proven to be a model for cooperative, science-based, landscape-scale, habitat conservation.  Our partners are led by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Program, but SGI works hand-in-hand with local community groups, federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, nonprofits, and thousands of agricultural landowners to ensure Farm Bill conservation programs reach their full potential for habitat conservation.

SGI’s partnership positions are funded by a host of participating nonprofit organizations, state fish and wildlife agencies, or federal partners.  We now have over two dozen field staff located in 11 states who comprise our Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT).  These dedicated and enthusiastic range conservationists, wildlife biologists, and natural resource specialists continue to deliver on-the-ground conservation results during the first quarter of 2016. The field capacity provided by SGI SWAT partnership positions have enabled NRCS to double the amount of conservation projects across the West.

The Intermountain West Joint Venture takes the lead in coordinating SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team.  IWJV also produces quarterly reports to track success on the range, like this new report.  Since 2010, our SWAT team has helped plan or implement the following gains for sage grouse, wildlife, and working rangelands:

  • 2,293,260 acres of rangeland improved to increase sage grouse hiding cover during nesting season. Additional grass cover is expected to increase sage grouse populations by eight to ten percent.
  • 291,613 acres of conifer removed 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.
  • 193 miles of “high-risk” fencemarked or removed near sage grouse mating leks. Marking fences is expected to reduce sage grouse fence collisions by 83%.

In addition, SGI ramped up our science and outreach efforts in 2016, with several new reports, stories, and web tools designed to enhance conservation efforts on the ground.

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