The Sage Grouse Initiative honors the ranchers who are stewards of vast sagebrush country, home to 40 percent of the remaining birds.  Today, more than 950 ranchers have voluntarily enrolled their lands in Sage Grouse Initiative projects, designed for win-win solutions for wildlife and for ranching. They’re partnering up to enhance their grazing systems for wildlife and in the process to encourage more nutritious forage for livestock. They’re conserving big ranches from development, removing invasive junipers, and marking fences to prevent collisions.

When we get to know the people where sage grouse live, we join the greater neighborhood of life in sagebrush country. Here we’ll share a few photographs and quotes from the people of the wide open western range. We’ll note the closest town to where they live to give you a general sense of the geography of their home.

BrysonMasiniThe Masini Family, Wellington, Nevada

The Masini family lives and breathes cattle ranch in the shadow of the Sweetwater Mountains. They also take pride in the sage grouse that find water and shelter on their ranch and are taking action several ways, from clearing invasive pinyon pines and marking fences to putting a conservation easement on a key part of their land. The Reno Gazette Journal featured the easement on the Sweetwater Ranch on May 15, 2013.

“The Sage Grouse Initiative helps our family stay in ranching. It helps us and it helps the birds,” says Bryson Masini.

PhillipsDon and Sheila Phillips, Ranchers, Ely, Nevada

Cattle ranchers Don and Sheila Phillips of Ely, Nevada, are enrolled in SGI, improving their rangelands to benefit nesting sage grouse. They’ve also marked fences to prevent bird collisions. Don personally witnessed a sage grouse seeing the marker and flying over it instead of into the fence. Read more about the Phillips.

BoClark_IdahoBo Clark, Rancher, Arco, Idaho

Here’s a bit of kitchen table conservation in action. Bo Clark, featured in center of photo, and his son Hadley (right), discuss a Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) conservation easement with Cary Myler, Partners Biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. They’re looking at future habitat projects that are all under the umbrella of the Sage Grouse Initiative, via the NRCS and Farm Bill dollars.

maggiemiller_wyomingMaggie Miller, Rancher, Pinedale, Wyoming

Maggie Miller put conservation easements on her land in magnificent sagebrush-steppe country. Teaming up with her neighboring ranchers Albert Sommers and his sister Jonita Sommers, an impressive 19,000 acres of critical sage grouse habitat is now protected. Called the Sommers-Grindstone Conservation Project, it’s a historic land agreement involving nineteen partners with a key role played by the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust.

Learn more about her story on the SGI video about conservation easements.

KDLeanderPDFKay D. Leander, Rancher, Leahy Junction, Washington

“We always take good care of our grass. You can’t starve a profit out of a cow.” – Kay D. Leander

“We’re on the gain here for sage grouse,” says rancher Kay D. Leander, who lives in Douglas County near Leahy Junction, about 30 miles west of Grand Coulee Dam, Washington. Leander keeps his eye on the sage grouse that use his ranch, along with other wildlife. He’s pleased that with Sage Grouse Initiative funding, he’s able make improvements that he wouldn’t be able to afford on his own. For instance, new fencing allows him to rest more pastures. Here, he is with his son Joel, mending fences.

Read more here, news article and NRCS PDF.

willyhaggeWilly Hagge, Rancher, Alturas, California

Keeping the sage grouse from being listed under the ESA, helping the birds return to historic range, and benefiting the grass and sagebrush lands are three goals for Willy Hagge, who lives in fine river bottomland near Alturas, with wildlife-filled ponds. He depends on his grazing leases on the Modoc National Forest, and is enrolled in juniper removal projects on lease land with SGI dollars. The goal is to connect historic corridors and bring back a small population now centered on Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Read more, Western Livestock Journal article.

Okeefe_ORJohn O’Keeffe, Rancher, Adel, Oregon

In the vast and tranquil Warner Mountains, the O’Keeffe family has made its living for generations. They move cattle from summer to winter ranges and keep an eye on the range to make sure the bunchgrasses and sagebrush are doing well. But they have had a harder time tackling the advance of junipers into historic range, a problem for livestock grazing as well as sage grouse. Now, John is seeing a turnaround, thanks to SGI dollars and to the cooperative efforts of the BLM.

“My neighbors have all been getting on board one by one, now that they are seeing how well it’s working,” O’Keeffe said. ”It’s been great to see and it’s set us up to leave this land in a lot better shape than we found it and to pass that on to the next generation,” said O’Keeffe.


Tribal Connections to Sage Grouse

Native peoples have lived alongside the sage grouse for thousands of years. We have much to learn from their ancestral wisdom and practices.

Dance of the Sage Grouse: Bridging Culture and Conservation

This two-sided, poster-sized brochure highlights Native Americans’ conservation efforts with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on one side. The other side features inspirational artwork by Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California member and artist Louinda Garity, who reminds us that despite our different backgrounds and cultures, we are on common ground when it comes to valuing sage grouse and their habitat in the sagebrush sea.

The brochure showcases examples of successful NRCS projects on Tribal lands around the West that are also in sage grouse territory, as well as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) stories.

To help expand the NRCS’ work with Tribes and start conversations about exploring conservation efforts or partnerships, the brochure also shares NRCS resources and provides information how to get started working with the NRCS.

Front page of Dance of the Sage Grouse brochure, featuring the gorgeous artwork of Louinda Garity. Click on the image to download the brochure.

Back page of the Dance of the Sage Grouse brochure, which highlights a variety of ways SGI and the NRCS work with Native peoples across the West. Click on the image to download the brochure.

Explore this companion storymap to learn more about the success stories featured on the brochure and the NRCS’ work with Native peoples across the West.

The Dance of the Sage Grouse brochure and storymap feature stories from four tribes that have worked with SGI and the NRCS to restore sagebrush habitat in the West. Read more about each story below.

Burns Paiute Tribe

In Oregon, the Burns Paiute Tribe has worked with the NRCS and the Sage Grouse Initiative to remove encroaching junipers, implement grazing management practices that improve rangeland health, and to plant native plants that tribal members harvest for traditional uses.

Learn more about this inspiring partnership.

Removing encroaching conifers on the Burns Paiute Tribal Lands.

Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

In Washington State, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation has worked with NRCS and the Sage Grouse Initiative to remove fencing that was a hazard to the low-flying sage grouse that live there. Additionally, the partnership developed a new well with a solar-powered pump which facilitated a rest-rotational grazing practice that also benefits sage grouse and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife. The Tribe also worked with the NRCS to improve native perennial vegetation and culturally important plants like the bitterroot. It all adds up to better range health and production, improved wildlife habitat and more resilient indigenous food systems, while maintaining a productive, working landscape.

See this great story map about this partnership.

Work on the Colville Reservation improved wildlife habitat, range productivity, and traditional food systems.

Goshute Tribe

In Nevada and Utah, the Goshute Tribe owns about 71,000 acres of sagebrush range. Since 2011, the Goshutes have worked with the NRCS to improve rangeland health. Today, thanks to their work, sage grouse are once again residents of the tribe’s rangeland. Prescribed grazing, watering facilities, planting native plants and cheatgrass management are just some of the conservation practices the Goshutes have implemented through their partnership with the NRCS.

Read more about this successful partnership.

Water development was a key component of the partnership between the Goshute Tribe and NRCS.

Fort Peck Reservation

On the sprawling Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal members manage almost 350,000 acres of sagebrush and grassland range. With a goal of improving rangeland health and ensuring that wildlife can freely move across the landscape, the tribes identified 1,700 miles of fencing that needed to be replaced or constructed. Working with the NRCS, the tribes have not only hired tribal members to fix or build more than one hundred miles of wildlife-friendly fencing, they’ve also implemented prescribed grazing and noxious weed control measures. All of it adds up to improved rangeland health and more abundant wildlife.

Watch a video about the Fort Peck partnership.

On the Fort Peck Reservation, wildlife-friendly fencing and water development have made a real difference for wildlife and livestock.











The two videos below are part of the High Desert Museum’s “Sage Grouse: Icon of the Sagebrush Sea” exhibit, and showcase a few of the many native traditions and legends surrounding this iconic bird:

The Chicken Dance (performed by the Eastern Shoshone Tribe)


Sage Grouse Legends of the Wasco and Paiute Tribes



Today, the Yakama Nation is teaming up to reintroduce sage grouse to historic range.

“Young tribal hunters were taught stalking techniques with sage-grouse as the quarry. As their skills increased, hunters shifted their focus to larger game such as deer and elk to feed their families and their communities. Sage-grouse courtship displays inspired traditional dance of the Yakamas that continues to be passed down through the generations.”

Exploring the Rural Community


Falconers head to sagebrush country to fly their birds and enjoy the open lands.

You won’t find many lights in the night sky, except stars above the sagebrush steppe. Yet, there’s a real diversity of folks who make a living in sage grouse strongholds — running the local newspapers, teaching in the schools, banking, offering motel stays, pumping gas, serving up a mean cup of coffee, running the barber shop and the beauty salon, guiding fishing and hunting trips, or hosting guest ranch stays. Plenty of other people come to the sagebrush steppe to hunt, to fly falcons in wide-open country without fear of hitting power lines, to ride horses and to discover the vastness.


Connie Barg, School Bus Driver, Dubois, Idaho

Connie is a school bus driver, who has offered her help to drive the tour buses for Dubois, Idaho, Grouse Days for 10 of the 11 years of the annual event to show the public the displaying males on leks. She’s lived in the rural country all her life and is a big fan of the birds and country – so much so that she stops her bus during the morning route in spring to give kids a chance to watch the male sage grouse strut. The annual viewing event takes place in a stronghold for sage grouse, where the BLM and SGI are actively working on conservation projects.


Brief YouTube Videos About Ranching Life, By Ranchers

What’s it really like to live the ranching life? Watch the four entries for the 2013 Montana Stockgrower’s Association film festival, part of its Montana Family Ranching Project:

Hahnranch402WCows and Plows: Life on the Hahn Ranch

“Spring, the three days between winter and summer, brings needed moisture, baby calves, branding and seeding crops. Summer is for irrigating, haying and moving cattle. Plans will change though, and sometimes you have to stop to capture a great-horned owl with a concussion, repair a broken turtle, or extract a baled up snake. The snake lived by the way…”  (4 1/2 minutes long, by Danika Quenemoen)

Reggietheangus402WLife of Reggie

Reggie is an unusual red angus, chosen for a Facebook series on Montana Stockgrowers Association page. Here’s Reggie’s story – that includes some stunning summer pasture near West Yellowstone — set to country music. (3 minutes, by Larisa Mehlhoff).

RidingtheRuby402wRiding the Ruby

Moving cattle with Max & Terri Moltich at Warm Springs Grazing Association Cow Camp. Billy Flynn & Sherri, and ranch reps Eli Nordquist and Rob Holden from the Hamilton Ranch, and Dan Doornbos, Ryan Ellis, Tel Miller, and Ray & Sue Marxer for Sauerbier Ranch. Alder Montana, July 2013. (3 minutes, by Susan Marxer)

Elkheherefords402xLife on the Ehlke Hereford Ranch 

The Ehlke family has raised herefords for twenty years in the Townsend area, not far from Helena, Montana.   “From early on, I knew I wanted to be a rancher…” (4 minutes, by Jane’a Ehlke)