NRCS Chief Jason Weller Gives Keynote at International Sage Grouse Forum, Utah

November 17, 2014

Ron Francis, Utah NRCS Public Affairs Specialist reports:

November 17, 2014


Utah sage grouse interests, led by Utah State University, hosted an International Sage Grouse Forum in Salt Lake City on November 13-14. More than 350 representatives from federal and state agencies, wildlife advocacy groups, universities, and ranchers attended to communicate and collaborate on the latest research and management activities across established sage grouse range. The group came away with a positive outlook on progress being made toward the goal of eliminating the need for birds to be listed as endangered when the September 2015 announcement is made.

NRCS Chief Jason Weller, keynote speaker on Friday morning, said he wanted to travel to Utah to show his support for the western range-wide effort to protect important habitat for the sage grouse.  Four years ago NRCS launched the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), which leverages the power of the Farm Bill to conserve and restore lands where habitats are intact and sage grouse numbers are highest—roughly 78 million acres across 11 western states.

Weller, seen in accompanying photo with Forum Coordinator Dr. Terry Messmer (right), reminded participants that the Natural Resources Conservation Service “has your back,” and is committed to make the investment necessary to preserve the sage grouse and maintain sustainable ranching in America.  He complimented Tim Griffiths and Dave Naugle, SGI staffers from Bozeman, Montana, for tireless work over the past four years.

He also took the time to compliment the ranchers who have stepped up in an extraordinary way—mentioning specifically Jay Tanner from the Della Ranch in Box Elder County, who was featured for his sage grouse work on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “This collaborative, voluntary approach to sage grouse conservation is incredible,” he said.

Weller outlined the three main goals of the SGI:  1) Remove risk and improve sustainability of working ranches; 2) Implement the right practices in the right places to benefit populations; and 3) Assess effectiveness, quantify benefits, adapt program delivery, and tell the story.

Over the past four years NRCS has improved 2.6 million acres of grazing lands that have increased the number of grouse by 10 percent; and they have enrolled 381,000 acres of easements to protect critical habitat. He praised the partnership efforts that have leveraged dollars and people, such as the establishment of SWAT teams to work one-on-one with producers. He estimated that the SGI funds over the past four years, plus other leveraged partnership funding, amounts to $380 million dollars on behalf of sage grouse research and conservation practices.

Dr. Terry Messmer and Rae Ann Hart from Utah State University, coordinated the forum and are to be congratulated on a successful event. For information on NRCS sage grouse work in Utah, contact State Biologist Casey BurnsPeriodic news reports from NRCS Utah To see blasts from the past go to e-Blast archives


Below: The Sage Grouse Initiative field staff gathers with Chief Weller at the International Sage Grouse Forum, held Nov. 13-14 in Salt Lake City. The staff of rangeland conservationists and biologists are stationed in sage grouse strongholds to help landowners carry out the Sage Grouse Initiative. Innovative partnerships overseen by the Intermountain West Joint Venture and in close coordination with the NRCS make the positions possible. On the right in ball cap and blue shirt is Seth Gallagher, SGI’s new field capacity coordinator who oversees this and other programs that spell success on the ground. To the far right is Pete Husby, state biologist and SGI lead for NRCS in Montana. Please see our staff page for more details.

SGI's & Chief Weller


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.