The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is an iconic ground-dwelling bird native to the arid sagebrush plains of the American West. Since the 1960s, habitat loss and fragmentation have led to significant declines in the bird’s population. Conservation efforts, like the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative, led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in September 2015 to conclude that the species did not warrant protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Although sage grouse occupy extremely large landscapes, a quarter of all sage grouse live within 4 percent of the range, and 75 percent of birds are concentrated within 27 percent of their distribution.
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.
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 launched SGI in 2010 to strategically focus conservation efforts to maximize biological benefits to sage grouse populations. NRCS’ sage grouse efforts are part of Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), which provides technical and financial assistance to help ranchers restore and protect habitat for sage grouse. WLFW also provides ranchers with predictability under the ESA, enabling ranchers to operate their lands as long as NRCS-prescribed conservation practices for up to 30 years.
- 645, Upland Wildlife Habitat Management
- Remove encroached conifers, improving habitat for sage grouse and other wildlife and increasing forage availability for livestock.
- Improve grazing systems management, increasing rangeland plant diversity, cover for birds and forage availability for livestock.
- Identify and mark fences where sage grouse collisions are likely reduce accidental mortality caused by fence strikes.
- Increase connectivity of existing core habitat.
- Improve weed and invasive species management.
- Restore and promote healthy, productive springs and seeps.
Outcomes and Impacts
WLFW will enhance NRCS’ ongoing conservation efforts to support sage grouse recovery by strategically focusing resources to promote healthy grazing lands management. Anticipated long-term outcomes of this initiative are improved rangeland health, greater connectivity of core sage grouse habitat, and stabilization or recovery of sage grouse populations.
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