New Sage Grouse Strategy Unveiled: $760 Million Invested by 2018

August 27, 2015

The Sage Grouse Initiative has enrolled 1,129 ranchers to conserve 4.4 million acres. We plan to double those numbers by 2018.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a renewed commitment to voluntary, incentive-based conservation efforts to bring back sage grouse populations. Vilsack unveiled the Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 Investment Strategy, which includes an additional $211 million in Farm Bill funding for proactive and cooperative conservation efforts in the West.

Our cooperative work with private landowners and diverse partners is living proof that wildlife and agriculture can coexist and thrive together. It’s our motto: what’s good for the bird is good for the herd. With this exciting new commitment to sage grouse conservation, the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative looks forward to improving wildlife habitat, ranching operations, and America’s rural economy over the next three years.

SGI 2.0 estimates that a total of $760 million will be invested by 2018 in cooperative efforts that restore sagebrush habitat, enhance working landscapes, and protect this iconic Western bird. Here’s a look at the numbers:

cows and birds - sgi 2.0 tw numbers>> $296.5 million from NRCS since 2010
>> $128 million from partners since 2010
>> $211 million from NRCS FY 2015-18
>> $124.5 million from partners FY 2015-18
$760 million in total

>> Enrolled 1,129 ranchers
>> Conserved 4.4 million acres
>> Established 451,000 acres of conservation easements
>> Implemented sustainable grazing systems on 2.4 million acres
>> Enhanced 405,241 acres of habitat by removing invading conifer trees
By 2018, we expect to conserve a total of 8 million acres of habitat

SGI 2.0 lays out a suite of proactive conservation actions that address the primary threats to sage grouse and their habitat. The new strategy lays out a framework for objectives and priority areas to reduce the threats from:

  • Fire and Invasive Annual Grasses
  • Invasive Conifers
  • Exurban Development
  • Cultivation of Grazing Lands
  • Mesic (Wet) Area Loss and Degradation
  • Fence Collisions

Read the new SGI 2.0 Investment Strategy

Watch this webinar by NRCS Chief Jason Weller explaining SGI 2.0

Read the Associated Press story: Ag secretary promises more sage grouse spending across West

Read the Denver Post story: Feds launch sage grouse plans to prevent endangered species listing

Read the USDA Blog by Sec. Vilsack (cross-posted on the White House Blog!)

Read the USDA Press Release

Read our Success on the Range report

Letter from USDA NRCS Chief Jason Weller:

Since 2010, the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) has served as the model for voluntary, incentive-based conservation at its best. Through conservation science and partnerships at the federal, state and local levels, we’re making a huge impact for conservation and agriculture at a time when it’s needed most. In this report, we lay out our renewed commitment to this partnership through 2018 and demonstrate the effectiveness these investments can have in bringing back sage grouse populations, while helping to improve ranching operations at the same time.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched SGI in 2010 to target efforts that sustain the working rangelands that support sage grouse and 350 obligate species for the long-term. Using Farm Bill conservation programs, we’re addressing non-regulatory threats facing the grouse, mainly fragmentation of their habitat, which is the primary reason for the sage grouse’s candidate designation under the Endangered Species Act. Through SGI, we’re applying the right conservation practices in the right places to maximize our return on investment.

SGI is making a difference because private landowners voluntarily work with us to produce results on the ground. The decisions Western ranchers and other private landowners make every day about what to do on their land will continue to have a critical impact on sage grouse.

The results speak for themselves. Today, 1,129 ranches across 11 Western states are conserving 4.4 million acres of land — an area of working lands twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. We have reduced habitat fragmentation by establishing more than 451,000 acres of conservation easements. These easements maintain large and intact working ranches, and often times they connect with other habitats on public lands.

Privately-owned grazing lands underpin 40 percent of sage grouse range and constitute some of the most productive habitats available. Through implementation of 2.4 million acres of grazing systems since 2010, SGI is helping ensure those lands are managed sustainably to provide productive sage grouse habitats long term while supporting the local economy on working lands.

We’ve also greatly enhanced 405,241 acres of otherwise suitable habitat by removing invading conifer trees. Focusing removal on early successional sites in priority habitats ensures maximum benefits for sage grouse conservation.

In addition to benefits to wildlife, we’re also preventing a loss of 60 percent of the available forage for livestock. Half of our SGI conifer effort has been invested in Oregon where we have now reduced more than 68 percent of the conifer threat on priority private lands.

We’ve come a long way since 2010, and we have no intention of slowing down.
This report describes the significant investments NRCS plans to make through the life of the 2014 Farm Bill. These aren’t random acts of conservation – we are looking to invest in the comprehensive plans put forth by the Western states and the public land management agencies. Our planned investments will complement the great work occurring throughout the West and provide our partners with a roadmap to fill unmet needs by rallying around a cohesive strategy. It is intended to be a living document, informed by the best available science and the priorities of our partners to make meaningful, targeted investments that will have a real impact for the species and bolster the productivity of working lands.

We’re calling this effort SGI 2.0, and NRCS is committing approximately $211 million to this partnership through 2018. NRCS has already invested $296.5 million in SGI, and our partners have brought another $128 million to the table. With the anticipated partner match on these new investments, we expect that by the end of 2018, around $760 million will have been invested through SGI, conserving up to 8 million acres of sage grouse habitat.

SGI would not exist without the hard work and commitment from our partners — states, conservation districts, wildlife and agricultural groups, land trusts and other federal partners. And our most important partner — the ranchers who are doing their part to improve outcomes for sage grouse.

SGI is living proof that wildlife and agriculture can coexist and thrive together. You’ve heard it before — what’s good for the bird is good for the herd. The steps we’re taking to improve habitats and outcomes for sage grouse and other wildlife are good for cattle, good for ranching operations, and good for America’s rural economy.

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.