Focus is on voluntary, incentive-based approach
FRISCO —Acknowledging the deteriorating health of sagebrush habitat and the decline of greater sage-grouse, federal officials this week announced a $211 million push to fund conservation plans and to help implement an effective strategy to reduce rangeland fire risk.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 will provide additional assistance for ranchers to make conservation improvements to their land, which mutually benefits the iconic bird and agricultural operations 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.
Since its launch in 2010, the Sage Grouse Initiative have conserved 4.4 million acres, an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park, using voluntary and incentive-based approaches for conservation. By the end of 2018 state and federal partners will have invested about $760 million and conserve 8 million acres.
Federal biologists said devastating western wildfires have also been a factor in sage grouse decline. The SGI 2.0 strategy will focus on reducing the threat of wildfire and the spread of invasive grasses after fires to restore wildlife habitat and quality livestock forage. Other goals include removal of encroaching conifers, protecting rangeland from exurban development and cultivation and protecting mesic habitats like wet meadows.
“The Sage Grouse Initiative is making a difference because private landowners voluntarily work with us to produce results on the ground,” Vilsack said. “The decisions Western ranchers and other private landowners make every day about what to do on their land will continue to have a critical impact on sage grouse.”
During the past five years, SGI has increased conservation easements 18-fold and strategically located them in priority landscapes that contain the majority of the birds. These easements not only protect important lands but help stitch together the broader landscape, connecting public and private lands into a footprint of healthy habitats.
According to federal agencies, cooperative conservation planning helped avoid listing of the bi-State sage-grouse, a subpopulation of the greater sage-grouse along the California-Nevada border. Similar efforts also helped avoid a listing of the Arctic grayling in Montana, as well s the proposed delisting of the black bear in Louisiana, and the recent delisting of the Oregon chub.