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NRCS Conservationist Makes Positive Difference for Sage Grouse and Washington Ranchers

Posted by Thad Header, Sage Grouse Initiative, Coordinator on May 03, 2016 at 03:30 PM
Moses Coulee's intact sage-steppe range provides habitat for birds and wildlife. Kevin Guinn, pictured in the orange vest, has worked as an NRCS range management specialist since 1980.

Moses Coulee's intact sage-steppe range provides habitat for birds and wildlife. Kevin Guinn, pictured in the orange vest, has worked as an NRCS range management specialist since 1980.

When it comes to jobs, Kevin Guinn’s son said his dad won the lottery. That’s not because Kevin’s job is easy, but because it’s a perfect match, and Kevin gives it his all.

Kevin, state range management specialist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is the driving force behind the agency’s sage grouse conservation efforts in Washington State. NRCS is working side-by-side with ranchers and conservation partners to proactively conserve habitat for the iconic Western bird.

Kevin is known for his humble, roll-up-his sleeves approach. And his hard work has not gone unnoticed. This year, he is one of only a handful of USDA employees nationally to receive the USDA Unsung Hero Award.

“The Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) is the program I went to college for,” Kevin says. “It’s wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching.”

It didn’t matter that the project was collateral duty. He put in the time to ensure it was successful from the start, beginning with developing a strategic state SGI plan to serve as a roadmap for how and where to best invest resources.

Kevin found a group of ranchers who owned land with critical sage grouse habitat and met with them to discuss how they could help sage grouse while improving their working rangelands. The results: 11 ranches signed up to participate in SGI in a seven-mile radius, creating an important habitat corridor for the bird.

“After working with Kevin for more than 35 years, he never was one to attack a challenge with half measures,” said colleague and friend Leigh Nelson. “He goes above and beyond, always striving for the best and never losing his true objectives.”

But those 11 ranches were just the beginning. He built SGI’s momentum in the state, and he also worked closely with conservation partners to increase the capacity to deliver top-notch conservation to Washington ranchers.

Through SGI, conservation partners – like Pheasants Forever – help ranchers apply for NRCS conservation programs and implement NRCS conservation practices. These partners, along with Intermountain West Joint Venture, are part of what is called SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT).

The SWAT builds field capacity and strengthens the science guiding SGI as well as bolsters communications capacity. Kevin ensured the partner’s staff members had the necessary training and tended to their questions to make sure they were quickly up to speed as new team members.

Kevin has invested considerable time passing his extensive knowledge and passion on to others through his great mentorship and work with countless field staff. He is selflessly transferring his nearly 40 years of NRCS and range management knowledge to the next generation.

After almost 40 years of federal service, Kevin has plans to retire this year. But his amazing conservation legacy with USDA will live on through all of the people he has mentored, the partnerships he has built, and the conservation he has put on the ground.

Asked what’s next, Kevin said he plans to spend more time enjoying his outdoor backpacking and hiking passion spending time with his wife and family.

“It’s been a true honor and pleasure to work alongside Kevin over the years as he’s the type of hero that every USDA office would be proud to have,” said Sam Lawry, Western Pheasants Forever Director.

Learn more in SGI’s question-and-answer with Kevin about his conservation efforts.

Tags: sage-grouse, NRCS employee, Washington

categories Landscape Initiatives , Plants & Animals

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