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Mesic Area Conservation for Sage Grouse

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In the arid American West, water is as good as gold. Wet “mesic” habitats — places where water meets land — comprise less than 2 percent of the entire landscape. Yet neither people nor wildlife can survive without them, as evidenced by the early homesteaders who followed scarce water when they settled the West.

Most of these vital water resources are found on private lands. Through the Sage Grouse Initiative, NRCS is supporting ranchers who are working to protect and restore mesic areas, benefiting livestock ranching operations and wildlife like greater sage-grouse. By conserving these areas, ranchers can build drought resilience and boost forage productivity.

Check out this multimedia story to learn more about NRCS’ conservation efforts of mesic areas.

As summer heat dries out soils in sagebrush uplands, sage grouse — like livestock and most wildlife species — follow the green line seeking out wetter, more productive areas. These mesic habitats serve as grocery stores providing the protein-rich forb and insect foods that help newly hatched sage grouse chicks grow and thrive. Research shows the important role mesic habitats play in the distribution and abundance of sage grouse, influencing where they choose their breeding grounds, or leks.

What Can Ranchers Do?

Western ranchers know the impacts of drought. Practices that boost riparian, wet meadow and watershed function supply more reliable water and forage production during lean times. 

NRCS and its partners are helping ranchers restore and protect mesic areas through: 

  1. Grazing Management
  2. Spring Protection and Enhancement
  3. Low-Tech Restoration
  4. Conifer Removal
  5. Mechanical Restoration
  6. Easements

Ranchers can learn more in SGI’s “On the Range, Water Is Life” brochure

NRCS staff members and partners can learn more about helping ranchers in the Mesic Habitat Conservation Planning Guide.

Broader Conservation Efforts for Sage Grouse

Protecting and restoring mesic areas are part of a broader NRCS conservation effort in sagebrush country. Since 2010, NRCS has partnered with 1,474 ranchers to conserve more than 5.6 million acres of sage grouse habitat through a variety of conservation actions, ranging from prescribed grazing to conifer removal. Restoring and protecting mesic areas is one of the six key threats outlined in the agency’s sage grouse investment strategy

Want to Learn More?

Top photo courtesy of Ken Miracle.