Interior Secretary Jewell Weathers Rain & Winds to See Landscape-Level Conservation Project for Sage Grouse in Oregon
September 26, 2014
The NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative works in concert with the BLM and ranchers in the Warner Mountains for landscape-level sage grouse restoration–removing early phase juniper invasions into historic sagebrush-steppe. (Please see: Science to Solutions: Conifer Removal Restores Sage Grouse Habitat). We are featuring two resulting stories from U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s visit to Lakeview, Oregon, Sept 25:
PHOTO TO RIGHT: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stands next to BLM Lakeview District Field Manager Todd Forbes Thursday afternoon in a field of sagebrush and juniper trees. During her visit to Southeast Oregon, Jewell also toured areas that multiple agencies and
partners are working to restore. (H&N )
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell toured southern Oregon’s high desert Thursday. The trip focused on efforts to conserve greater sage grouse.
The birds live in sagebrush country. But their habitat is shrinking in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and other states – because of people, wildfires, and invasive species. The birds don’t like fragmented habitat and need wide-open spaces.
Across the West sage grouse have lost about half of their habitat, said Tim Griffiths, the national coordinator for the Sage Grouse Initiative.
“In Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, you have a lot of encroaching conifer trees, where we’ve kept fire out for a hundred years, Griffiths said in an earlier interview. “Those trees march out on the arid, desert environment and fragment the landscape that way.”
In other parts of the West, including Eastern Washington, Griffith said there have been “wholesale conversion of historic native range for wholesale crop production.”
Invasive juniper trees have been crowding out sage grouse habitat southern Oregon. Jewell toured an area where ranchers and conservationists have tested different ways to remove encroaching juniper trees. Jewell says they’ve learned it’s best to remove juniper trees before they crowd out too much land.
“You can remove the trees, and that will help the landscapes for about 50 years. If you wait until the juniper encroaches, you’re talking 100 to 150 years for the sagebrush to recover,” she said in an interview.
Jewell said sage grouse can’t wait that long for better habitat.
Ranchers and conservationists have been working together across the West to help save the sage grouse in 11 Western states. Conservationists say work to improve sage grouse habitat will also help out other species living in shrub steppe habitat, like mule deer.
“There is no question that this effort is a wave of the future because we’re not looking at a specific species, we’re looking at a landscape. We’re not looking at one particular region, we’re looking at large ecoregions,” Jewell said. “This is a model that can be followed, and I’d say what’s happening in Oregon is a model within a model.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide next year whether to add the bird to the endangered species list.
By LACEY JARRELL H&N Staff Reporter
Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell weathered high winds and pounding rain Thursday to observe how a landscape-based approach is being applied to sage grouse conservation in Southeastern Oregon.
Jewell and Deputy Secretary Steve Ellis were joined by representatives from several government agencies and nonprofit organizations to tour the Bureau of Land Management’s South Warner Juniper Removal Project southeast of Lakeview. The project, which involves juniper cutting and thinning — juniper displaces plants and grasses that attract sage grouse — and habitat improvements for sage grouse brood-rearing and foraging, is supported by federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Jewell emphasized the need for collaboration among all stakeholders to conserve sage grouse and its habitat. She said developing this approach has reached a critical time and that states, in particular, must work with private landowners and their federal partners to develop strategies to reduce threats to sage grouse while supporting the ranch and energy industries. “Time is of the essence because the landscapes are changing fast,” Jewell said. “When you add the encroachment of species like juniper or invasives like cheatgrass, you really ruin these landscapes, and what we heard today is that you’re ruining them for decades, if not hundreds of years.”
The tour included three stops where juniper removal and habitat restoration efforts have been undertaken on Oregon Cattlemen’s Association President John O’Keeffe’s ranch near Abel. Each area illustrated a varying level of sage steppe environment, from juniper ridden hills to more pristine habitat with few or no junipers.
According to BLM Lakeview District Field Manager Todd Forbes, it’s not uncommon for sage grouse to move back into historically used areas once junipers have been cleared.
“The collaborative spirit that I witnessed on the ground makes me optimistic we can preserve the Western way of life, protect wildlife that rely on sagebrush habitat, and promote balance between open space and energy development,” Jewell said. “Working hand-inhand with other federal agencies, state agencies, private landowners and stakeholders, I am pleased that we are making significant strides in our sage-grouse conservation efforts in places like Oregon.”
The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.