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Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative Helps Landowner, Sage-Grouse

By Michael Lucas, Former Soil Conservationist, Malta, Mont.

Expired CRP in WLFW intiative which will allow for deferred grazing of native pasture.When rancher Ron Holzhey’s half section of Conservation Reserve Program ground expired from the program in 2012, he was at a crossroads on whether to farm this ground or to keep it in grass.  It would have been very lucrative for him to lease those acres to a farmer and break them up, but Holzhey also knew that having tame pasture as an early season grazing source would allow him to defer use of his native grass.  Though Holzhey did not want to break up this ground, without reliable water, he would not be able to capitalize on the early season tame pasture.Stock tank on expired CRP which enables the land to be used for grazing.

In March 2013, Holzhey attended a pasture management workshop held by NRCS that featured speaker Justin Morris, NRCS pasture management specialist.  Soon after the workshop, he signed up for the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) initiative, a partnership between NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to combat the decline of seven specific wildlife species, and would keep his expiring CRP in grass.

Well head on expired CRP land. Water development allows the land to be used for grazing.Holzhey’s participation in Working Lands for Wildlife is one example of how this initiative has provided benefit to both the rancher and sage-grouse.  NRCS assistance through WLFW allowed Holzhey the opportunity to graze and maintain nesting habitat for sage-grouse and other grassland birds.

The improvements that were made to Holzhey’s half section of tame pasture have given him many more options to rest his native pastures.  Not only will this improve nesting habitat for birds, it will also add to Holzhey’s forage resource.  Overall, WLFW has given ranchers like Holzhey more options to improve grazing management and reduce the conversion of grassland acres to cropland, which is the number one threat to sage-grouse in Montana.