Safer Flights for Sage Grouse Over Washington State, Thanks To Dedicated Field Staff

larry enjoying fence free view in washington to benefit sage grouse

October 2, 2015

Photo above: Washington landowner Larry Nordby surveys his ranch near a pile of old fence recently removed to improve sage grouse habitat.

Michael Brown, a Sage Grouse Initiative range and wildlife conservationist in Washington state, forged a new connection with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program to make sure a willing landowner could accomplish as much as possible to improve conditions for the eastern Washington’s sage grouse. He knew that because Larry Nordby was already enrolled in NRCS Farm Bill-related conservation programs he wouldn’t qualify for SGI funding to remove old, unused, barbed-wire fencing that was dangerous for sage grouse flying low on his property.

The following story was written by SGI’s Michael Brown, and appeared on the USFWS blog this week. Read on to learn how this dedicated field staffer is making all the difference for ranchers and for wildlife by working cooperatively in Washington state. Good work, Michael!


A sage-grouse erupts from the grass and flies swiftly across Washington’s Douglas County landscape. Sage grouse are not new here, what is new is the reduced threat of these birds colliding with a fence across 3,800 acres of this landscape. Thanks to a local landowner more than fences have been removed from the area, and that number may increase next year as a budding partnership grows.

Sage-grouse are different in Washington State. They live in a very fragmented landscape and rely heavily on fields protected under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), especially for nesting. Many of these fields have old barbed-wire fences around them that no longer serve any purpose; their lack of visibility make them a danger to sage-grouse, which often fly low to the ground. As these fields are already involved in USDA programs that make them ineligible for Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) funding, a new partner was needed. That was when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program got involved and became instrumental in reducing the financial burden on landowners to remove these hazardous fences.

Biologists in the “Partners” program, as it is known, are all about helping landowners reach their ranching and farming goals while improving conditions for wildlife. In the last couple of years, SGI, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever, and the Partners program have worked together to enhance the work being done through USDA programs.

One of the latest examples of this collaboration is with landowner Larry Nordby who both farms and ranches in the county. “All of these programs have been great,” Larry said as he, Partner program biologist Gregg Kurz and SGI Biologist Michael Brown survey the area where the fences used to be. “It has been great to work with the Partners program as well as SGI. It has really made a difference for our operation.”

Read the full story here on the USFWS Blog.

Read more aboutsage grouse monitoring efforts in Washington state.

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.