The Sage Grouse Initiative is a new paradigm for conserving at-risk wildlife and America’s western rangelands that works through voluntary cooperation, incentives, and community support.
Launched in 2010, SGI is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
SGI applies the power of the Farm Bill to target lands where habitats are intact and sage grouse numbers are highest. To date, we’ve partnered with 1,474 ranchers to conserve 5.6 million acres across 11 western states.
While private lands are the primary focus, SGI also serves as a catalyst for public land enhancements. Working together, we are passing on our western heritage of vast skies, beautiful rangelands, and room to roam for people, livestock, and wildlife.
The latest cutting-edge science and technology is helping our partners direct resources where conservation returns are highest. Three-quarters of sage grouse concentrate on one-quarter of their range. By focusing our efforts on the core habitats, we multiply our return on investments – spending our first dollar conserving 500 birds, instead of five.
SGI also relies on science to document the biological benefits of farm Bill Investments. Rather than simply reporting acres treated, SGI measures the biological benefits of habitat improvements. New insights continually improve on-the-ground results.
Community-level conservation results in pride and ownership. It also takes people helping people to get the work done. That’s why the NRCS joined forces with a dozen partner organizations to add 20+ field positions in rural communities across sagebrush range to help ranchers on the ground.
From Malta, Montana, to Ely, Nevada, these jointly-funded range and wildlife conservationists comprise SGI ‘s “Strategic Watershed Action Team.” They are our boots on the ground, working each day with hundreds of ranchers to proactively conserve the iconic western range.
Our field staff are dedicated to matching Farm Bill programs with ranchers who can use them, improving agricultural operations as well as wildlife habitat.
The partnership is the engine that powers the Sage Grouse Initiative. The growing alliance of stakeholders embraces a kaleidoscope of interests, values, and backgrounds.
While the NRCS conceived SGI and channels funding through the Farm Bill, success is only possible through partners that leverage funds, shoulder work, and take on policies beyond our scope.
In addition to local communities and ranchers, every state and many public land agencies have stepped up to safeguard sage grouse. We invite more partners to join us to achieve wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching.
You might call it kitchen table conservation. A lot happens over coffee or out mending fence. When one rancher enrolls in the Sage Grouse Initiative and the neighbor likes what he or she sees, the word spreads. Pretty soon, you’ve got applications flooding the local NRCS offices.
The NRCS has a long history of living and working in rural communities. The staff and the SGI partner employees understand the importance of flexibility and meeting landowners on their own schedule for voluntary conservation to work. It’s not surprising that more than 700 ranchers have enrolled in the Sage Grouse Initiative. It’s all about trust and credibility.