Greater Sage-grouse Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative
NRCS launched the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) in 2010 as a highly targeted and science-based landscape approach to proactively conserve sage-grouse and sustain the working rangelands that support western ranching economies. This innovative partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses all embrace a common vision – achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. Learn more about the partnership by visiting sagegrouseinitiative.com .
The greater sage-grouse, an iconic ground-dwelling bird of the the West, has experienced significant population declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2010 designated the species as a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will make a final listing determination in September 2015. Nearly 40 percent of all sage grouse habitat occurs on privately owned lands.
Through SGI, NRCS works with landowners in 11 Western states to improve habitat for sage grouse and improve sustainability and productivity of native rangelands. Using a voluntary and incentive based approach, NRCS focuses its resources in priority conservation areas and areas with higher bird populations in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
How Does SGI Work?
NRCS uses Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), to provide technical and financial assistance to help ranchers accelerate installation of conservation practices on the ground. Conservation practices are designed to be win-win solutions addressing threats facing both sage-grouse and rangelands. This type of conservation work includes: developing grazing management practices to maintain nesting cover, removing encroaching conifers that have invaded sagebrush-steppe, securing conservation easements to keep working lands working as intact range in perpetuity, and making fences more visible to reduce sage grouse collisions.
NRCS’ sage grouse conservation efforts are part of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), the agency’s effort to accelerate conservation efforts for at-risk species while providing regulatory predictability for up to 30 years.
How Does SGI Benefit Producers?
Conserving and enhancing habitat benefits ranchers and sage grouse alike. On the ground conservation work provides better forage and grazing lands for livestock, and tools like conservation easements help ranchers keep their land intact long-term. Additionally, participating ranchers receive peace of mind knowing their conservation practices are in compliance with ESA regulations in case the species is listed in the future.
How Does SGI Benefit The Public?
SGI is an ecosystem-based approach to wildlife conservation. Working with partners, we are conserving habitat for sage grouse, as well as pronghorn, mule deer, elk, songbirds, and 350 other species that share the same landscape. All while helping to manage vast, intact ranchlands in ways that also create more nutritious forage for livestock. SGI’s conservation efforts also protect critical water resources, important in an era of drought and water shortages that impact communities across the West.
Partners are key to SGI success. Over 100 partners are pooling resources, expertise and strengths to accomplish SGI’s vision of achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. Unprecedented cooperation aims to recover sage grouse and sustain a healthy sagebrush-steppe using proactive and sustainable strategies. Diverse partners include conservation districts, nongovernmental organizations, private corporations, land trusts, state agencies, universities and federal agencies.
Click here to view list of available publications.
Applicants will complete a Threat Checklist to determine the number and type of threats associated with sage-grouse habitat. This checklist also helps identify the treatments that a producer is ready, willing, and able to implement.
Applications will be prioritized and ranked based on criteria such as: identified threats that will be addressed in the contract, percent of the operation to be enrolled, and location of the operation in relation to the core, current, or historic sage-grouse range.
Interested producers may apply for a Conservation Activity Plan (110 Grazing Management Plan) under EQIP. Under this option, a Technical Service Provider works with the producer to develop a Grazing Management Plan on the participant’s operation as a single, stand-alone program contract. The plan must be developed within 12 months after obligation. A subsequent application for EQIP or WHIP to contract implementation of structural practices may be considered.
The following practices are available under this special initiative. Applicants should work with their local Natural Resources Conservation Service staff to select and design appropriate practices that will improve rangeland health or benefit sage-grouse habitat directly.
Mary Schrader, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, 307-233-6762