Ag Policy Blog

USDA Unveils Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The USDA announced $211 million in funding to help ranchers adopt conservation measures that are designed to benefit the endangered sage grouse on federal lands, according to a press announcement Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a four-year strategy to run through 2018, during an appearance in Portland, Oregon, known as Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0.

According to a USDA news release, the effort will encompass conservation efforts in 11 western states.

"The Sage Grouse Initiative has proven itself as a model for how wildlife and agriculture can coexist and thrive in harmony, and that is why we are announcing steps today that will expand this important initiative throughout the life of the 2014 farm bill," Vilsack said in a news release.

"I applaud America's ranchers for their initiative in improving habitats and outcomes for sage grouse and other wildlife, and for their recognition that these efforts are also good for cattle, good for ranching operations, and good for America's rural economy."

Since its launch in 2010, public and private partners have implemented measures on some 4.4 million acres using voluntary and incentive-based conservation approaches.

Since then USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service invested $296.5 million into the initiative, while private partners matched an additional $198 million.

"By the end of 2018 with implementation of the SGI 2.0 strategy, NRCS and partners will invest approximately $760 million and conserve 8 million acres, an area more than seven times the size of the Great Salt Lake," the USDA release said.

NRCS leaders from California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming worked with conservation partners to develop the four-year strategy.

The strategy will focus on reducing the threat of wildfire and spread of invasive grasses after fires, in order to restore wildlife habitat and quality livestock forage. In addition, the strategy will focus on removing encroaching conifers, protecting rangeland from exurban development and cultivation, protecting mesic habitats like wet meadows, and reducing fence collisions.

Vilsack is meeting with a variety of conservation partners, ranchers, and government officials who have worked through SGI to conserve sage grouse habitat.

"Oregon has seen success in sage grouse habitat conservation, especially through the targeted removal of conifer trees that invade sagebrush habitat," the USDA release said.

"Through SGI, NRCS has helped Oregon ranchers address more than two-thirds of the conifer problem on private lands in the state's priority areas, and with SGI 2.0, anticipates 95% removal on priority private lands by 2018."

USDA said during the past five years the initiative has expanded the number of conservation easements by 18-fold and "strategically located them in priority landscapes that contain the majority of the birds."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the bi-state sage-grouse -- a subpopulation of the greater sage-grouse along the California-Nevada border -- did not require listing because of the conservation efforts to conserve the species.

"This success is seen nationwide, evidenced in the recent decisions not to list the Arctic grayling in Montana, the proposed delisting of the black bear in Louisiana, and the recent delisting of the Oregon chub," the release said.

Read about NRCS sage grouse conservation efforts here, http://tinyurl.com/…

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