Meet Michael Brown, Our New Field Capacity Coordinator — Helping People Make Big Things Happen

October 20, 2016

Ask An Expert: Michael Brown, Field Capacity Coordinator for the Sage Grouse Initiative

Today, the Sage Grouse Initiative welcomes Michael Brown to our core team. Michael is well-versed in working with ranchers and partners on ways to benefit the bird and the herd, since he spent three productive years as a member of our Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT). In his new role—a position funded by SGI and Pheasants Forever in coordination with the Intermountain West Joint Venture—Michael will be responsible for managing the entire SWAT team of biologists and range conservationists working with landowners to conserve sagebrush landscapes across the West.

What does ‘field capacity’ mean when it comes to protecting and restoring sagebrush habitat?

Our Strategic Watershed Action Team works with landowners across the West on conservation projects.

It means building conservation partnerships, educating people, and developing a team dedicated to conserving wildlife, rangeland, and all of the resources that sustain the sagebrush ecosystem. More than 40 partner organizations are already working together in sagebrush communities across the West. When we’re all working together to accomplish the same goal, we can make big things happen—landscape-scale differences for the better. That’s what SGI is about.

How does SGI build capacity to conserve sagebrush rangeland?

At SGI, we build capacity by helping to fund, train, and hire wildlife biologists and range conservationists who work on the ground with private landowners. Right now, we have 26 of these Strategic Watershed Action Team employees—who we appreciatively call “SWATers”—stationed throughout 11 states in key areas for sage grouse.

As a previous SWATer with Pheasants Forever and SGI in Washington state, I can vouch for the fact that putting people on the ground with our local NRCS staff to build and strengthen relationships with landowners is the best way to make a difference locally, regionally, and—eventually—across the whole ecosystem. In my new role managing and working with the field staff, I hope to add even more capacity for expanding the landscape-scale sagebrush conservation efforts underway.

Touring the property: Left to right: John Merz, Foster Creek Conservation District; Another Foster Creek CD employee; Gregg Kurz, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Biologist; and Michael Brown, SGI Pheasants Forever biologist. (photo Businger)

Michael Brown, right, works with a variety of partners to benefit working lands and wildlife.


How can we expand sagebrush conservation work going forward?

Think outside the box. That’s the best way to increase habitat and to keep ranchers and farmers on the landscape, too. I’ve learned that it’s important to increase the sustainability of agricultural operations if we want to make conservation work for everyone. That might mean incorporating engineering or chemistry expertise or other new technology to improve range health, rather than relying on traditional conservation tools.

Right now, I’m setting up a pilot project with five producers in Washington state on precision agriculture business planning. We secured funding to collect and analyze data on their fields. We’ll use software to issue a report card to these landowners and then suggest technology that can increase their bottom line. The goal is to give producers the microeconomics of each field to help make their operation revenue-positive, which will keep them on the land and, in turn, keep that landscape open and healthy.

What are some of the ideas you have for making a bigger impact?

I’d love to bring in more nonprofit partners who are focused on restoring mesic habitat—like streams and wetlands—to accomplish our joint goal of improving the entire ecosystem. I’d also like to help the SWATers explore new avenues to further their careers. For instance, I learned how to write grants to get more done in the field, like conducting infrared surveys on 405,000 acres of Washington’s core sage grouse habitat.

Most of all, I’m excited to work with SGI’s diverse team on creative ways to improve wildlife habitat and agriculture throughout the West.

Meet The Expert


Dedicated to studying birds since high school, Michael Brown is excited to work on a landscape scale with SGI.

How did you decided to work in wildlife conservation?

I was lucky enough to have a great high school teacher who took us out in the field. I remember one trip where we got to see birds hatching right out of the eggs, and an incredible hummingbird display flight. It hooked me on birds.

When I went to UC Davis for my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed studying game birds, waterfowl, and raptors. I found the happy nexus between all three types of birds by working in wetlands, a habitat they all depend on. For my master’s degree in avian science, I studied how to manage wetlands, and particularly loved worked with private landowners. It was inspiring to hear their stories and vision for what could happen on their piece of the world.

What are you most looking forward to about continuing to work with SGI?

Getting paid to continue learning a new ecosystem and new species with a hands on approach, without homework or tests! And, most importantly of course, conserving, enhancing, and protecting wildlife habitat so that future generations can enjoy wildlife, hunting and the outdoors.

This is my first leadership role. I plan to be honest and straightforward with people to build on SGI’s conservation efforts with our partners across the sagebrush landscape. I hope that the team will grow with me and I’ll grow with them, too.

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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.