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News Release - March 16, 2010

BISMARCK, ND - USDA Secretary Vilsack announced an initiative to alleviate threats to sage-grouse habitat while ensuring the sustainability of working ranches in 11 western states.

NRCS Helps Farmers and Ranchers Alleviate Threats to Sage-Grouse Habitat

Through this sage-grouse initiative, North Dakota landowners in Bowman, Golden Valley, and Slope Counties can apply for financial and technical assistance until April 23, 2010.

A recognized loss of habitat and the determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, but precluded, has generated enormous interest in sage-grouse conservation,said Dave Dewald, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Biologist. not only by Federal agencies, but also by ranchers and local conservation groups.

The major threat to sage-grouse in North Dakota is habitat fragmentation. Ranchers in Bowman, Golden Valley, and Slope Counties are maintaining sagebrush habitat through their operations. With their help, sage-grouse still exist in North Dakota. Other threats to sage-grouse include West Nile virus, lack of nesting and brood cover, collisions with fences, stock water tanks without escape ramps, grazing management that does not account for sage-grouse needs, and others.

Dewald said that practices to improve sage-grouse habitat may be applied with funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), which typically pays up to 75 percent of the costs for those practices.

Such practices include: implementing grazing systems in nesting areas to increase residual cover and increase brood survival rates, planting cropland back to native grasses and big sagebrush, retrofitting existing fences to increase their visibility and reduce sage-grouse mortality; and installing escape ramps for wildlife in watering facilities among other practices.

As an added benefit, Dewald said, improving sage-grouse habitat will also promote overall grazing land health and the sustainability of an agricultural operation.

For more information about the sage-grouse initiative, landowners in Bowman, Golden Valley, and Slope Counties should contact their local NRCS office. Additional sage-grouse information is also available on the NRCS Sage-Grouse Habitat Management web page.

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