Author Archives: SGI Editor

Invasive Plants in Sage Grouse Habitat – Strategy Report Released


Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies New Report:
Key Strategies for Managing Invasive Plants in Sage Grouse Habitat

Contact: Ken Mayer, WAFWA Fire & Invasives Team leader: Cell: 775-741-9942, Email: 




A new report from the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies assesses the threat of invasive weeds to sage grouse habitat, the barriers to overcoming it, and recommends 11 key strategies to address the serious threat that is exacerbated by wildfires.

Across sage grouse range in 11 western states, invasive plants are challenging managers to come up with effective ways to control their spread and impacts on the sagebrush ecosystem. Cheatgrass and medusahead are considered the top contenders for causing problems. Cheatgrass now dominates 17 million acres in the Great Basin and is part of plant communities on another 62 million acres. The annual exotic grass promotes hot, large wildfires that wipe out native plants. Medusahead crowds out and replaces native grasses. As more invasive plant species alter the ecosystems sage grouse and many wildlife depend upon, managers are taking the issue seriously.

“The report was truly a collaborative effort at every level, from local, state, and federal weed organizations to universities and agencies,” said Ken Mayer, WAFWA Fire & Invasives Team leader. “ I believe it will help move the needle in a positive direction for weed management in the west.”

The report, Invasive Plant Management and Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation: A Review and Status Report With Strategic Recommendations for Improvement, complements prior publications targeting fire and fuels. How well is current management working? What activities are taking place now to address invasive plants? And what can be more effective? The report answers all three questions through the lens of conserving the habitat for sage grouse as a landscape-level bird being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The new publication results from a request of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that WAFWA address the conservation challenges of fire and invasive plants as two primary threats to sustaining sage grouse in the western portion of the species range. The request led to a series of reports (this is the fourth in the series).

While wildfire can take center stage in the news, the effects of fire on sage grouse are closely linked to invasive annual grasses and forbs that affect the wildfire cycle and directly impact grouse habitat.

The authors conclude on a positive note, encouraging a prioritization of controlling invasive plant infestations and touting successful efforts that have treated thousands of invasive plant outbreaks across the west. Those successes demonstrate that investing in multi-landowner collaboration and broad scale control can have high returns.

Download distribution letter from WAFWA HERE
Download the 51-page report HERE
For all WAFWA reports on Sage-Steppe (weeds, fires, & more): HERE

Download the PDF of the above Featured Research Text HERE


Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Protects Ranch on Colorado River

Read the E&E NEWS REPORT on this project.

Read the USDA Blog on this success story.

Big news today from our partner: Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust! And a big thank you to the Yust family for their generosity and gift to future generations–protecting sage grouse and trout habitat and river recreation all together. This achievement truly shows the power of  partnerships. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Sage Grouse Initiative is proud to be one of the funders through Farm Bill conservation easement programs slated for sage grouse habitat. 

(Photo of Yust Ranch @John Fielder)












Press Contact:
Erik Glenn, Acting Executive Director
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust


KREMMLING, CO   The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) recently conserved one of the state’s spectacular working ranches along both the Colorado and Blue Rivers in Grand County near Kremmling. The Yust family’s desire to leave an intact working ranch legacy resulted in a 995-acre conservation easement held by CCALT.

“With places like Yust Ranch, it’s easy to say that Colorado is home to some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (CO) said. “As we’ve seen first-hand on this working ranch, active cattle production can co-exist with thriving sagebrush habitat and wildlife. Everyone involved in finally making this conservation easement a reality should be very proud.”

Sen. Bennet visited the ranch in 2014 to see the benefits of Farm Bill conservation programs, including the Sage Grouse Initiative, a partnership launched by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2010.

Fifth generation rancher Jay Yust grew up ranching here and, with his father Jim, shares a passion for the family’s home and their land.

“The easement absolutely made this ranch more economically viable, and it will stay that way in the future whether we’re here or not,” he said.

The Yust family has tended their ranch with a strong sense of stewardship for wildlife as well as their livestock operation. The ranch is home to healthy populations of sage grouse, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and moose. Bald eagles routinely roost in the cottonwoods that line the Blue River.

“This area is one of Colorado’s truly special places,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “Keeping this large landscape together provides not only important habitat for sage grouse, but also conserves river corridors that nourish ranchers, recreation and other wild animals. Protecting these elements sustains our environment, economy and quality of life.”

Strong partnerships and dedication from the Yusts and the CCALT staff brought a seven-year project across the finish line. The significance for sage grouse led to funding from the Farm Bill via the Sage Grouse Initiative. Great Outdoors Colorado (lottery funded), Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, and the Gates Family Foundation all stepped up to contribute dollars to purchase the easement.

Noted Colorado photographer John Fielder has documented the beauty of a ranch in three of his books and inspired partners to join together for an easement that protects both sagebrush country and the irrigated hay meadows at the confluence of the Blue and Colorado Rivers.  The easement includes a mile and half of the Blue River on both sides and over three miles of the south side of the Colorado River.



The Colorado River flows through the Yust property. The conservation easement includes the confluence of the Colorado and Blue Rivers and connects into the sagebrush country that is important to sage grouse–linking trout, recreation and sage grouse together. Photo credit: John Fielder, all rights reserved.

Senator Bennet (CO) looks at map of Yust property with Jim Yust (left) and son Jay Yust (right) CCALT photo.

Senator Bennet (CO) looks at map of Yust property with Jim Yust (left) and son Jay Yust (right).

Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust Conserves Working Ranch in Sage Grouse Core

We’re sharing great news from our partner, Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust: a new and invaluable conservation easement in Sublette County (includes Pinedale) that’s good for sage grouse, elk, mule deer, pronghorn and moose too. Thanks to the ranching family Zach and Patty Roberts for passing on a legacy.

(We profiled WSGALT recently as a Featured Friend. Click HERE.)
(See our SGI video called Saving Sage Grouse, the Wyoming Example  HERE.)

“This easement with the Roberts family is another great example of the landowners of Wyoming taking steps to maintain their ranching heritage, and at the same time, conserving habitats of critical importance to species like Sage-grouse and mule deer. Zach and Patty are great resource managers with their hearts in the right place. Congratulations to them on this achievement.”
        — Bob Budd, executive director of Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) 



Contact: Margret Cox 307-772-8751

Stock Growers Land Trust Conserves Ranch for
Agricultural Production in Perpetuity

The “Charlie Ball Place” conservation easement will protect more than 1,700 acres of rangeland and important wildlife habitat from development and subdivision, keeping it in agriculture and available to wildlife and future generations of producers.   The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust expressed its appreciation to ranchers Zach and Patty Roberts for placing a portion of their long-time ranching operation under conservation easement. Almost two miles of Horse Creek and over three miles of Onion Creek and other tributaries to Horse Creek offer significant riparian habitat to wildlife and the conservation easement encompasses property entirely within the Daniel Sage Grouse Core Area.

In addition to providing forage to the Roberts Cattle Co., the property provides significant habitat resources for large game in Sublette County. The property is entirely within Mule Deer and Moose Crucial Ranges as well as Elk and Pronghorn Antelope Seasonal Range.

Zach and Patty Roberts said “We are very happy to have finished this conservation easement with Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and its funding partners. This conservation easement assists in protecting wildlife habitat and sage grouse habitat for future generations.”

Funders to the project include Wyoming’s Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) which, under the guidance of Executive Director Bob Budd, has supported a number of projects benefitting Sage Grouse, including habitat enhancement projects as well as permanent conservation easements in Core Areas in order to help stave off the listing of Sage Grouse as an the Endangered Species.

Bob Budd said, “This easement with the Roberts family is another great example of the landowners of Wyoming taking steps to maintain their ranching heritage, and at the same time, conserving habitats of critical importance to species like Sage-grouse and mule deer. Zach and Patty are great resource managers with their hearts in the right place. Congratulations to them on this achievement.”

 The US Fish and Wildlife Service cites habitat fragmentation as a leading factor in the decline of Sage Grouse in the western states, and the voluntary commitment of private landowners toward the goal of minimizing or precluding habitat fragmentation was acknowledged in a letter to the WWNRT, “Conservation easements can serve as an extremely valuable tool in accomplishing that goal. Given the typical ‘in perpetuity’ term placed on these easements, we consider easements not only biologically effective in preventing and reducing the habitat fragmentation that negatively affects the sage grouse, but also as a regulatory mechanism we can fully consider in our listing decisions.”

In his Executive Order, Governor Mead stated, “It is critical that existing land uses and landowner activities continue to occur in core areas, particularly agricultural activities on private lands.”

Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust Executive Director Pam Dewell underscored the important contribution of private lands to the Cowboy State’s defining wide open spaces. “Wyoming leads the country in the size of ag operations, averaging 2,745 acres per farm or ranch, versus the national average of 418 acres in 2014. With more than 30 million acres of agricultural land, we can thank Wyoming producers for keeping these lands open and available for the production of food and fiber and the magnificent views we all enjoy every day.”




About the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust

The Stock Growers Land Trust is dedicated to conservation through ranching. Based in Cheyenne, the non-profit organization serves the entire state and is Wyoming’s only agricultural land trust. Through partnerships with ranch families, the Stock Growers Land Trust holds and stewards conservation easements on more than 204,000 acres of land on ranches and farms throughout Wyoming. Founded in 2000 by the 140-year-old Wyoming Stock Growers Association, it is one of the largest among the 1,659 regional land trusts in the United States. For more information, visit


Sage Grouse Initiative stars in NW Emmy Award Nominated TV Documentary

The Sage Grouse Initiative may soon rise to “Emmy” fame. The dancing, strutting male sage grouse are natural stars of the sagebrush-steppe.  However, a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)  TV show names another star: the rancher.  The film also highlights SGI as a win-win solution.

The Oregon Field Guide segment  called  “Ranchers Act to Protect Sage Grouse, Prevent Restrictions”  is one of 20 OPB programs nominated for the Northwest Regional Emmy Awards from the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS). The station is also nominated for overall excellence. Winners will be announced June 6.

Here are a couple excerpts from the script that follows Jeremy Maestas, Natural Resources Conservation Service biologist, to a spring lek where sage grouse dance:

Jeremy Maestas can hear the odd pre-dawn sound effects before he can see what’s causing it. Finally, with just enough light creeping above the horizon, he spots the source.

“We’ve got some hens here which means the boys are extra excited,” whispers Jeremy Maestas. “Just like the human world, the reason the boys are here is because the girls are here.”

And this a bit later in the script:

Yet, both Sharp the rancher and Maestas, the biologist, see cattle and grouse as compatible.

Sharp says cow manure attracts insects which provides food for young grouse.

“What’s good for sage grouse is good for ranching,” says Maestsas. “And we mean that too.”

Maestas says both grouse and cattle need abundant, healthy bunch grasses. His agency, the NRCS, has established the Sage Grouse Initiative, an effort to promote sustainable ranching that allows sage grouse to co-exist in cattle country.


(PHOTO copyright, Rick McEwan)


Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust: Viewing Sage Grouse on Conserved Ranch Inspires Staff

By Jayne Thompson, Development and Communications Assistant, CCALT

(Note: Read our Featured Friend profile of SGI partner CCALT).

(Photo: Rachel Sralla, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, interprets sage grouse courtship to Jayne Thompson, CCALT)

For the past 20 years, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) has worked with ranchers in the state of Colorado to conserve working agricultural landscapes. The Sage Grouse Initiative and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are two of several key partners teaming up for success. As a result of ranchers stepping up and partners, we have protected over 45,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat.

As an organization, we promised ourselves that at some point we would need to actually see the birds we were protecting. We recently completed an easement on a ranch in Grand County that is known for its historic sage grouse lek. The project represented a large milestone for CCALT, so it seemed like the perfect time to celebrate by visiting the ranch and observing the famous spring courtship—the sage grouse strut.

View of prime sag grouse habitat in Colorado that harbors an active sage grouse lek: the site of CCALT's staff expedition to at last see grouse in action. (CCALT photo)

View of prime sag grouse habitat in Colorado that harbors an active sage grouse lek: the site of CCALT’s staff expedition to at last see grouse in action. (CCALT photo)

What started out as a large group outing slowly dwindled down to two participants. Chris West, our Executive Director and I were the only two people in the office willing to wake up before the sun.

It was an exceptionally early morning, and we were headed west on I-70 by 3:30 am. Two hours later, we pulled off on a dirt road to meet Rachel Sralla from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. A headlamp would have been a good idea, but we began our hike regardless and made it to the top of the bluff under the cover of darkness. Rachel eventually stopped to notify us we were getting close. At this point, our adrenaline kicked in, as we anticipated finally getting to see the birds.

We sat down in the sage, and waited. The sun began to light the valley, and the early dawn turned into a crystal clear Colorado morning. The air was crisp and cold and I was grateful for my oversized camo jacket. After scanning the

horizon, Rachel spotted a single male strutting about 200 yards away from us. We had barely focused our binoculars on him before a herd of antelope sprinted by and flushed him off the lek. Disappointed, we moved down the other side of the bluff and scoped from there. Our patience paid off, and soon Rachel nudged us to signal that 150 yards out four male sage grouse were strutting. This time, they weren’t scared off, and we had plenty of time to observe them in their historic ritual.

On our hike out, we enjoyed a spectacular sunrise that made getting up so early worth it. After seeing this historic tradition, I have a broader understanding of how unique this species is to the west, and how ranching plays a key role in their survival. On this ranch, the lek is located in a pasture grazed by cattle in the fall, allowing the sage grouse to coexist with the ranching operation and the land. It’s stewardship like this that is critical to the future of this species.

Yust Ranch SG - view from top of bluff

View from the top of the bluff of prime sage grouse habitat, thanks to the stewardship of the ranch owner and the many partners who worked to permanently protect this intact landscape via a conservation easement. (CCALT photo)

male sage grouse - photo by Tatiana Gettelman

Sage grouse male displays at sunrise. Seeing grouse on a lek inspires partners to do even more for this wondrous bird and the 350 other species sharing the range. Working ranches play an integral role in keeping the habitat intact. (Tatiana Gettelman photo).

Rachel Sralla, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, guided Chris West (here), CCLAT, and Jayne Thompson to a lek viewing spot on a working ranch with conservation easements that protects sage grouse habitat (CCALT photo)

Rachel Sralla, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, guided Chris West, CCLAT, and Jayne Thompson to a lek viewing spot on a working ranch with conservation easements that protects sage grouse habitat (CCALT photo)




Collaborative Approach to Sage Grouse Conservation Across the States

Capital Press published the following story April 6, by Eric Mortenson that tells the story of proactive conservation underway for the sage grouse, with an emphasis on Oregon’s conservation successes for the bird.
Tim Griffiths, national coordinator of the NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative in Bozeman, Mont., said the intent is to achieve non-regulatory wildlife conservation while sustaining a working landscape. He said the public-private collaboration has been “nothing short of historic.”
(Photo to right of sage grouse and cattle sharing a lek (breeding area for sage grouse), by Jane Elliott).

States adopt plans as sage grouse listing decision approaches

With an endangered species decision on the horizon, Western landowners and public agencies seek collaborative ways to conserve or improve greater sage grouse habitat.

If greater sage grouse are listed as threatened or endangered later this year, it won’t be for lack of expensive conservation efforts in the 11 Western states where the bird lives.

Since 2010, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service alone has spent nearly $300 million and worked with private landowners to conserve sage grouse habitat on 4.4 million acres. A total of 1,129 ranches have signed on through the NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative.

Other public agencies and private partners have spent an additional $128 million in that time, according to an NRCS report, and the 2014 Farm Bill contains $200 million more to continue the work into 2018. All across the West, landowners and management agencies are cutting intrusive conifer trees, marking fences to prevent in-flight collisions and doing other work to protect a bird whose potential Endangered Species Act listing has been described as the “spotted owl on steroids.”

In fact, it was the bitter northern spotted owl legacy of lawsuits, timber sale protests, mill closures and steep reduction in federal timber harvests that prodded private and public collaboration regarding sage grouse.

Tim Griffiths, national coordinator of the NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative in Bozeman, Mont., said the intent is to achieve non-regulatory wildlife conservation while sustaining a working landscape. He said the public-private collaboration has been “nothing short of historic.”

Whether it staves off an ESA listing, however, is an open question. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2010 that greater sage grouse warranted ESA protection, but held off implementation because other species needed more immediate attention. The service will decide by September 2015 whether to list sage grouse as threatened or endangered.

Western partners must be able to tell USFWS what has changed since it made its initial conclusion, Griffiths said. A March report from the Sage Grouse Initiative documents the work that’s been done:

Oregon, where voluntary conservation agreements on private and public land now cover nearly all critical sage grouse habitat in the state, is seen as a model of inter-agency and landowner cooperation. Ranchers represented by soil and water conservation districts have signed Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, or CCAA, with the Fish and Wildlife Service. In return for taking basic steps to improve or preserve sage grouse habitat, landowners get 30 years of protection from additional regulation even if the bird is listed.

Meanwhile, the Sage Grouse Initiative has spent $18.4 million helping Oregon landowners remove western junipers and other early-stage conifers, which crowd out sage and grasses, suck up water and provide perches for predators. More than 405,000 acres in the West have been reclaimed by cutting juniper, with nearly half in Oregon. The work has cleared conifers from an estimated 68 percent of the grouse nesting, brood-rearing and winter habitat on private land, according to the SGI.

Griffiths, the SGI coordinator, said voluntary acceptance by ranchers was crucial.

“That would almost be the understatement of the century,” he said. “The ranching community not only opened up their gates and their kitchen tables for us to sit down and discuss this, they opened their pockets and brought their neighbors over,” he said.

One of the early signers, rancher Tom Sharp of Southeast Oregon’s Harney County, coined an expression for the agreements: “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.”

Harney County spent three years drawing up conservation agreements on private land, Sharp said. After they’d been approved, seven other Oregon counties adopted similar plans within three months. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown presided over a celebration of the agreements last month in Bend.

Marty Suter Goold, director of the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, was invited to Denver in March to explain the county’s work to officials from the 11 Western states where greater sage grouse live.

“Irregardless of what happens with the listing decision, I feel landowners wanted to demonstrate their dedication to these kind of habitat improvements on private lands,” she said. “We’re pioneering a way of the future that can be modeled to any kind of species.”

Goold said a timber owner who’d been through the endangered species wars told her ranchers were far more organized than the timber industry was when the spotted owl listing hit.

Other states count successes as well. In Nevada, the Department of Interior signed an agreement in late March that allows Barrick Gold of North America to offset any grouse habitat harm caused by expanding its mining operations on public land. The company will accumulate conservation “credits” by improving habitat on a Nevada ranch it owns. The agreement commits Barrick Gold to achieving a net conservation benefit with the work.

In Wyoming, a cattle ranch that was destined for wind energy development will be converted to a conservation “bank” of sage grouse habitat, beginning with 55,000 acres deeded to the Sweetwater Conservancy.

Griffiths, of the SGI, said habitat fragmentation is the bird’s biggest threat, but the causes vary. In Oregon, it’s caused by juniper intrusion, but in Wyoming it’s oil and gas development and in other areas mining or grazing might be the biggest problem.

He said Oregon’s “well rounded” sage grouse conservation plans can spark innovation in other states. “It creates conservation envy,” he said.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Unveils Important Website

The Sage Grouse Initiative encourages all who appreciate wildlife & proactive conservation  to take a close look at a terrific new website for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative.

Please bookmark:

On the website of this sister initiative to SGI, you’ll find spectacular photography along with extensive information about LPCI: stories on win-win conservation of lesser prairie-chickens and rural agriculture; how to take part in LPCI; in-depth natural history information on lesser prairie-chickens and the prairie community of which they are a part;  news,  videos, and much more.

The lesser prairie-chicken today inhabits restricted areas in five states of the southern Great Plains (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas). The species is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. To see all the relatives to the sage grouse visit our sagebrush community section on the “Bird.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service launched the Sage Grouse Initiative and the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative in 2010. Both succeed through win-win solutions. Here’s more info about LPCI from the new website:

What’s LPCI about? In a nutshell — our mission is to keep lesser prairie-chickens booming through win-win conservation.

In 2010, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative to help ranchers and farmers voluntarily enhance lesser prairie-chicken habitat while improving the long-term sustainability of their agricultural operations.

Though lesser prairie-chickens were once abundant across more than 180,000 square miles of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, their distribution has been reduced by more than 85%, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Through LPCI, NRCS and its partners are taking a proactive and targeted approach to species conservation in the lesser prairie-chicken’s five-state range.

With 95% of lesser prairie-chicken habitat located on private lands, empowering landowners to improve rangelands is essential to conserving and expanding lesser prairie-chicken populations.

The LPCI partnership puts Farm Bill funds to work assisting landowners in priority habitat areas who volunteer to manage, enhance, and expand suitable lesser prairie-chicken habitat. These voluntary practices don’t just benefit prairie-chickens — they also promote the long-term sustainability of ranching operations.


Western Governors’ Association Releases Major Sage Grouse Conservation Report

Sage grouse conservation is producing historic results at local, state, regional and federal levels, with more commitments ahead. That’s the news from the Western Governors’ Association in its March 2015 report: Sage-Grouse Inventory 2014 Conservation Initiatives. The 32-page document with a 101-page appendix compiles work at both policy and implementation levels on behalf of sage grouse in 11 western states, from 2010 to 2015.

The Sage Grouse initiative highly recommends the new report and its appendix as a key resource.

Download 32-page report.
Download 101-page appendix.

Nevada Ranchers Take Proactive Measures in Bi-State as Listing Date Approaches: Reno Gazette Journal article

The Reno Gazette Journal ran an in-depth feature on Sunday, written by reporter Jeff DeLong: Birds on the Brink: Nevada Ranchers Wait for Sage Grouse Decision.

Read more on the Sage Grouse Initiative in the Bi-State.

(Photo to right: Rancher Steven Fulstone and his daughter Emily pose for a portrait on their property in the Smith Valley in Nevada on March 17, 2015. Credit: Jason Bean/RGJ)


The Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Sage Grouse Initiative is part of a major proactive conservation effort, providing  pinyon-juniper removal funding to help the Fulstone ranching family featured in this story.  April 2015 marks the month the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will decide whether or not to list the geographically distinct population of sage grouse of the Nevada/California border country.

The article highlights the commitments of all agencies and partners of the Bi-State Local Working Group to conserve the bi-state sage grouse, with a particular emphasis on the NRCS:


“In both Nevada and California, the conservation service (NRCS) has worked with ranchers and private landowners to enroll 7,300 acres into conservation easements that will keep land in agricultural production and avoid residential development that would degrade habitat. Some $13.1 million has been invested to date, with another $5.5 million targeted toward additional easements affecting 4,500 more acres of prime habitat now in the pipeline, Heater said.

Other efforts focus on the need to slow the steady encroachment of pinyon-juniper woodlands into sagebrush terrain. The thirsty trees rob water needed by sagebrush and other understory vegetation, essentially crowding out plants needed by sage grouse to survive. Sagebrush provides needed cover and during winter months, provides virtually all of the bird’s diet.

Since 2011, Heater’s agency has worked with landowners to treat terrain being overrun with pinyon-juniper, spending some $1.1 million to remove the moisture-sucking trees from 3,830 acres. Another 1,620 acres will be treated in 2015, with most of that work already done.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we can avoid a listing,” Heater said, adding that keeping ranches in operation and thus protecting the most important habitat may be the best solution for the bird in the long-run.

Many are pointing to a 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that indicates the bi-state sage grouse population is at least holding its own.

Of six “distinct population segments” studied in the bi-state area, bird populations were found to be stable in all but one between 2003 and 2012, according to the study.

“The preponderance of evidence suggests that sage grouse populations are stable,” reads the report prepared by Peter Coates of the USGS and other experts.”


PRESS CONTACT FOR BI-STATE: Heather Emmons, NRCS PAS: Phone: 775-857- 8500.

Partners & Landowners Key To Conservation: Jason Weller, Chief Of Natural Resources Conservation Service Speaks At North American Wildlife Conference

WellerNewsRelease PDF

OMAHA, NE — Jason Weller, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, praised partnerships and voluntary efforts of private landowners that are critical to conservation successes across the country. Weller spoke late this afternoon at the North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference, addressing a reception hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a nonprofit group that works to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.

Weller specifically pointed to the Sage Grouse Initiative as the best model today for wildlife conservation of at-risk species. Partnerships, collective actions toward a common goal, and voluntary private lands conservation have added up to historic results in just five years, he said.

The Initiative and its partners have invested $424.5 million and conserved 4.4. million acres, with 1,129 participating ranches in 11 western states.

Weller said that you could literally see the conservation achieved from outer space, emphasizing 4.2 million acres is twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. That’s why his agency has also committed a new infusion of $198 million in 2015 that with partner contributions will bring the total investment to $751 million.

The NRCS launched the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010 in response to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announcement that sage grouse were warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but precluded for immediate listing because of other higher priority species. The Service gave a five-year window to see if enough conservation could be accomplished across 11 western states to avert the need for a listing.

The Sage Grouse Initiative has a strong track record of success, based on a wealth of partnerships, the use of science to target the right places to work to make the greatest difference, and through the exemplary cooperation of private landowners –stewards of 40 percent of sage grouse range, including prime summer habitats with water.

The investments have focused attention on the largest populations of sage grouse, by targeting 75 percent of investments inside the Priority Areas for Conservation –designated by the Service as most important for recovery of the sage grouse.

Specific achievements include an 18-fold increase of conservation easements by willing landowners under the Initiative. Of the more than 450,000 acres of working ranch lands protected from development, 80 percent fall where sage grouse live. The birds and the ranchers depend on vast, intact tracts to make a living.

Conifer removal has reclaimed more than 405,000 acres of former sagebrush-steppe, assuring the sage grouse will have the room they need for their marvelous courtship dances in spring, for nesting, and rearing of chicks.

For an up-close view of how SGI works Weller told the story of Jay Tanner and family in NW Utah. Their family has ranched in NW Utah for more than seven generations, dating to the 1870s.tanner

In the five years since the Tanners teamed up with the Sage Grouse Initiative, they’ve removed 9,000 acres of invading junipers, tweaked their grazing management to help sage grouse nest and raise their young with highest success. In addition, they’ve invited Utah State University graduate students to their property to study grouse populations. Grouse counts are up 20 percent in the County, thanks to the efforts of the Tanners and other ranchers.

Weller stressed that with the additional resources, the Tanner story can be multiplied in many more sage grouse strongholds, predicting an estimated eight million acres of sage grouse habitat conserved by 2018.

A day earlier, Tim Griffiths, Sage Grouse Initiative national coordinator for the NRCS, shared the big picture success story to hundreds of conference attendees. He focused on both specific achievements and the significance of the Initiative as a win-win model for conservation in North America.

Press Contact: Tim Griffiths, SGI national coordinator for NRCS: (406) 600-3908