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Sage Grouse Initiative

Rob Timm is a young and ambitious land steward who operates a ranch in Southwestern North Dakota. Throughout his life, he has demonstrated a passion for the land, his cattle, local wildlife, and the lifestyle of a rancher.

Rob, along with his wife and daughter, ranches on land that is native habitat for sage-grouse. Sage-grouse have experienced a significant decline in population over several decades. Understanding the severity of the issue and his unique chance to help protect this native bird, Mr. Timm reached out to his local NRCS Field Office to see what could be done.

Ironically enough, NRCS, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and other conservation partners had just recently established a new conservation initiative to address these dwindling sage-grouse populations.

The Sage Grouse Initiative was developed to help private land owners improve the bird’s core habitat. Because Mr. Timm was interested in enhancing his land’s sage-grouse habitat, he enrolled in the initiative. Mr. Timm went to work with Bowman NRCS field office staff to develop a conservation plan that would both sustain his land’s sage-grouse habitats and improve the overall health and vigor of his soil, rangeland, and other wildlife habitats.

Mr. Timm’s conservation plan included cover crops, conversion of cropland to grassland, fencing (portable windbreak), pipelines, watering facilities, forage harvest management, and prescribed grazing. Establishing cover crops helped Mr. Timm supplement his grazing operation by allowing his cattle to be removed from native rangeland and still receive adequate feed. Subsequently, this practice also enhances the health and vigor of rangeland and helps establish species diversity, which is especially important to sage-grouse habitat.

Mr. Timm has been very satisfied with the conservation benefits of his cover crops. “Cover crops are something I’m going to continue to do even after the programs are completed,” stated Mr. Timm. “They are wonderful for wildlife and for my livestock."

While no new leks have been discovered on his ranching operation, NRCS and Mr. Timm are both well aware that Sage Grouse do live in the area. A young sage grouse chick (see photo) was discovered by NRCS staff during a spring field visit. Young chicks often live on bugs and succulent plant tissue that can be supplied by cover crops or alfalfa plantings. “Following the discovery of this chick, I haven’t had any cattle on the lek since October,” stated Mr. Timm. “I could do this because NRCS helped me get portable windbreaks, water developments, and cover crops closer to my home.”

The addition of portable windbreaks closer to his home has allowed Mr. Timm to better manage where his cattle roam during the cold months of a North Dakota winter. Prior to his enrollment in the Sage Grouse Initiative, his cattle would graze on the native range from late fall through the spring calving season. With these new windbreaks, his cattle may now be removed from the native range—the home to many wildlife species—and relocated to other tame grass or cropland areas. Because Mr. Timm’s rangelands take on significantly less stress, it can supply more residual cover for wildlife, which is another benefit to the sage-grouse.

Keys to Mr. Timm’s conservation successes were his personal interest in helping native sage-grouse and his willingness to work with NRCS to develop a management plan appropriate for his land and his conservation preferences. NRCS is pleased to share this anecdote as an example of conservation success at its finest.