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Washington's Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI)

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NRCS launched the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) in 2010 as a highly targeted and science-based landscape approach to proactively conserve sage-grouse and sustain the working rangelands that support western ranching economies. This innovative partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses all embrace a common vision – achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. Learn more about the partnership by visiting      .

The greater sage-grouse, an iconic ground-dwelling bird of the West, has experienced significant population declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2010 designated the species as a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will make a final listing determination in September 2015. Nearly 40 percent of all sage grouse habitat occurs on privately owned lands. 

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.

How Does SGI Work in Washington State?

NRCS uses Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), to provide technical and financial assistance to help ranchers accelerate installation of conservation practices on the ground.

Ranchers in parts of central and eastern Washington may be eligible to receive financial assistance to help protect sage grouse habitat and improve range conditions for their livestock. Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative and the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) initiative, ranchers have options available for existing grazed ranch lands and expired CRP lands. The initiative is limited to sage grouse habitat areas of central and eastern Washington.

Existing grazed ranch lands have two different grazing options. Both grazing options have cost-share available for cross-fencing, water developments, and conducting grazing management for a maximum of three years.

Rest-and-Deferment Option

The rest-and-deferment option is to provide optimal cover for nesting hens and brood rearing.  There are three components to this option – grazing management, monitoring, and rest-and-deferment.  Payment is made for all pastures in grazing plans, plus an additional payment for pastures that are rested or deferred. Payments are per year with a possible maximum of $25,000 each year.

Plant Health Option

The plant health grazing option is to improve general plant health of ranch lands. There are two components to this option – grazing management and monitoring. This grazing option is also available on expired Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields.

By deferring grazing, or not grazing certain areas at all for a year, sage grouse habitat can be protected during the critical mating and nesting period. The payments made possible through the Sage Grouse Initiative are designed to offset the costs associated with deferring grazing on that land.

Other Conservation Options

In addition, other practices to improve sage grouse habitat may be applied for with funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Such practices include: Retrofitting existing fences to increase their visibility and reduce sage-grouse mortality; installing escape ramps for wildlife in watering facilities; remove structures used as predator perches; improve rangeland species diversity via seeding; riparian improvement to increase brood survival rates.

How Does SGI Benefit Producers?

Conserving and enhancing habitat benefits ranchers and sage grouse alike. On the ground conservation work provides better forage and grazing lands for livestock, and tools like conservation easements help ranchers keep their land intact long-term. Additionally, participating ranchers receive peace of mind knowing their conservation practices are in compliance with Environmental Species Act (ESA) regulations in case the species is listed in the future. 

How Does SGI Benefit The Public?

SGI is an ecosystem-based approach to wildlife conservation. Working with partners, we are conserving habitat for sage grouse, as well as pronghorn, mule deer, elk, songbirds, and 350 other species that share the same landscape. All while helping to manage vast, intact ranch lands in ways that also create more nutritious forage for livestock. SGI’s conservation efforts also protect critical water resources, important in an era of drought and water shortages that impact communities across the West. 


Partners are key to SGI success. Over 100 partners are pooling resources, expertise and strengths to accomplish SGI’s vision of achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching. Unprecedented cooperation aims to recover sage grouse and sustain a healthy sagebrush-steppe using proactive and sustainable strategies. Diverse partners include conservation districts, nongovernmental organizations, private corporations, land trusts, state agencies, universities and federal agencies.


Contact your local USDA-NRCS Service Center Office for more information regarding the EQIP program and application process.