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Sage Grouse Initiative (SGA) Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Accomplishments

In March 2010, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched SGI to provide a holistic approach to conserving sage-grouse and sustaining working ranches in the West. In its inaugural year, SGI has quickly become one of the largest and most recent conservation success stories in the West. Capitalizing on the strong link between conditions required to support sustainable ranching operations and habitats that support healthy sage-grouse populations, NRCS approved 223 contracts totaling over $18.5 million in financial assistance to simultaneously remove threats to sage-grouse and improve sustainability of working ranches. SGI used funding through Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($14.6 million) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program ($3.8 million). Additionally, technical assistance funding was provided to support NRCS staff and partners in assisting producers in implementing conservation practices.

The following FY2010 accomplishments are a direct result of SGI participants’ efforts to improve sage-grouse populations and habitat:

  • SGI targeted program delivery to maximize benefits to populations by placing 71% of projects within core breeding areas and 92% of projects within the species occupied range.
  • Producers managed 640,000 acres of grazing lands to improve sage-grouse hiding cover during nesting season. Additional grass cover is expected to increase sage-grouse populations 8-10%.
  • Producers marked or removed 180 miles of ‘high risk’ fence near leks where sage-grouse breed, preventing 800-1,000 fence collisions annually, a number of birds equivalent to all male sage-grouse counted on leks in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington, California and the Dakotas combined.
  • Producers removed 40,000 acres of encroaching conifer from otherwise suitable sage-grouse habitat in key nesting, brood-rearing and wintering sites.
  • Producers seeded 11,000 acres of burned rangeland and marginal cropland back to rangeland vegetation providing habitat for sage-grouse.

NRCS in collaboration with US Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) completed a conference report providing certainty to landowners who enroll that NRCS programs will benefit sage-grouse. By conditioning NRCS conservation practices, landowners can rest assured that they can continue normal operations even if FWS lists sage-grouse as a federally threatened or endangered species. We amended a suite of 40 conservation practices to ensure they were either benign or beneficial to sage-grouse, including upland habitat management, prescribed grazing and brush management for juniper removal.

SGI is a science-based initiative with evaluations carried out by reputable, independent scientists to measure the biological response of sage-grouse populations to conservation practices, to assess SGI effectiveness, and to adaptively improve program delivery. We mapped range-wide sage-grouse population centers or ‘core areas’ to refine SGI delivery ensuring conservation practices benefit large numbers of birds. Now SGI-sponsored studies are underway in Montana, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Wyoming to assess benefits of grazing systems and removal of encroached conifer. SGI assessments reflect appropriately large scales at which sage-grouse populations use habitat resources year-round and transcend that of an individual ranch to encompass multiple and nearby ranches enrolled in SGI.

May 25-27, 2010, NRCS simultaneously delivered to 10 western states 3 days of training for 500+ participants including all NRCS staff in counties where sage-grouse live. The training included sage-grouse life history, threats to birds, treatment options and SGI priorities. Training was a huge success for all NRCS employees and partners involved.

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