Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today $21.8 million in additional financial assistance to help eligible farmers and ranchers in Wyoming conserve critical Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), conservation partners such as land trusts will help eligible ranchers permanently protect large working ranches, and the associated Greater Sage-grouse habitat. USDA's support aims to keep farmers and ranchers in Wyoming working on their land, while maintaining the land's economic viability. Over the past two years, USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service's (NRCS) Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) has obligated $112 million in financial assistance to conserve sage-grouse in 11 states, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
"Instead of trying to tackle all of the threats to sage-grouse in a massive land area, NRCS and its partners are prioritizing assistance in core areas of high sage-grouse abundance to ensure that enough of the right conservation practices are implemented in the right landscapes," said Vilsack. "By proactively working with farmers and ranchers to ensure that sage-grouse flourish and are provided with habitats, we are keeping agricultural lands productive and enhancing the economies of Western states. Moreover, our conservation partners are demonstrating their commitment to SGI's success by providing additional resources to help us with this effort."
USDA and its partners will continue to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of applied conservation practices, quantify the resulting benefits, and provide a scientific basis for SGI improvements. Thus far, USDA has invested $94 million in the SGI in 2011 and $18 million in 2010. States are using a combination of programs to provide the financial and technical assistance required to implement the initiative, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP). Please click on Sage Grouse Initiative to view a list of each state's funding by program.
SGI works in part through easement programs like FRPP to provide matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses. Wyoming's ranchers have shown unprecedented interest in enrolling acreage in FRPP to protect agricultural land on which the Greater sage-grouse depends to thrive. Working with USDA, conservation partners such as land trusts will use FRPP to help eligible ranchers permanently protect large working ranches, and the associated Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Wyoming will use the additional fiscal year 2011 funding for agreements with land trusts that will conserve nearly 38,000 acres in permanent easements on four large working ranches in Park and Sublette counties.
Examples of the types of conservation practices that NRCS and its partners are installing include: using sustainable grazing systems to improve hiding cover for birds, marking or moving "high risk" fences near breeding sites to reduce bird collisions, and removing invasive conifers from grasslands to allow re-colonization of otherwise suitable sage-grouse habitat. Previously, the SGI removed encroaching conifers from 40,000 acres of range lands in areas near high sage-grouse abundance, allowing birds to re-colonize otherwise suitable habitats.
Conservation partners are demonstrating their commitment to SGI's success by providing additional resources to leverage the federal investment. In an unprecedented partnership with federal and state agencies, non-government organizations and private industry, USDA is investing $4 million and its partners an additional $2.25 million to increase technical assistance to help speed the implementation and success of the SGI. This $6.25 million investment will support 16 new technical positions that are hired and supervised by non-federal partners and housed in USDA service centers for up to three years. The employees will help eligible farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that enhance sage-grouse habitat in priority landscapes.
In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the greater sage-grouse biologically warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, because of the need to address higher-priority species first, the FWS placed the sage-grouse on the candidate list for future action. SGI's goal is to implement the right conservation practices in the right locations to preclude the need to list the species as threatened or endangered.
For more information about SGI, please visit Sage Grouse Initiative.