Kevin Guinn, USDA “Unsung Hero” Awardee, Tells How Range Conservation Makes A Difference

MosesCoulee with Kevin Guinn SGI

May 3, 2016

Moses Coulee’s intact sage-steppe range provides habitat for birds and wildlife. Kevin Guinn, pictured in the orange vest, has worked as an NRCS Range Management Specialist since 1980. Kevin is receiving the USDA’s 2016 “Unsung Hero Award” today in Washington D.C.


Ask an Expert: Kevin Guinn, Sage Grouse Initiative State Lead in Washington

Lee Hemmer, rancher and supervisor with Foster Creek Conservation District

Kevin talks conservation with Lee Hemmer, rancher and supervisor with Foster Creek Conservation District.

How does range conservation make a difference for birds and wildlife?

The first thing we do as rangeland conservationists is to make sure we’re working toward the health of the entire ecosystem. We do it in a balanced way that’s a win for ranchers, as well. Our task is to partner with ranchers to manage rangelands in a sustainable manner that supports vital ecosystem functions, like storing water, providing site stability and biotic integrity, and protecting the health of the soil. If we do that, we know that we’re going to be providing the habitat necessary for a variety of wildlife species.

What is the secret to rangeland health?

The core practice on the sagebrush-steppe is prescribed grazing. To maintain vigor and vitality, we manage grazing intensity, as well as the timing, duration, and frequency of both grazing periods and recovery periods. If we do this right, native bunchgrass plants give us more shoots and make more seed.

One important thing I like to do with ranchers is make sure we’re on the same page with the grass physiology on the landscape. It’s central to maintaining the health of the whole system. While shrubs and forbs are important, too, if we conserve the mid-size bunchgrasses, we know the whole system holds together well.

Why is healthy sagebrush important for ranchers and livestock as well as wildlife?

If we have a healthy sage-bunchgrass ecosystem, ranchers see many benefits. Rangelands with diverse plants offer a variety of species for their animals to eat. And the perennial native species give a more stable base of livestock forage for a longer period, compared to the “boom and bust” cycle of annuals. Good rangeland management keeps the weeds at bay, so we avoid a mono-culture of invasive cheatgrass.


Meet the Expert

Kevin has served as a range conservationist with the USDA-NRCS for nearly 40 years.

Kevin has been committed to conservation as a USDA-NRCS employee for nearly 40 years.

What inspires you about working with ranchers?

I enjoy working with ranchers because they are fiercely independent, and they make a living from natural landscapes. Their main inputs are sunshine, rain, and snow. The best ranchers know they are managing more than cows. It’s rewarding to see how proud ranchers are when they have sage grouse on their land.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I have a strong passion for hiking. The ability to put on a backpack and go out for six or seven days of adventure in beautiful places is an amazing thing. It’s good for the soul.

I also have a passion for Mexican food and Texas barbecue, since I grew up in that region. I raise my own New Mexican chilies, then roast and freeze them to have lots of hot salsa on the shelf. My barbecue brisket takes 18 hours to cook, but it’s worth the wait.

Lastly, I’m passionate about my faith, and feel extremely blessed for my career. I’ll be retiring in January, and am honored to receive this award … what a way to go out!

The Sage Grouse Initiative and our partners proudly nominated Kevin for the USDA’s 2016 award “Unsung Hero Award.” Three cheers for Kevin, and his contribution to birds, herds, and wildlife in the Northwest!

Read this USDA Blog by SGI Coordinator Thad Heater about Kevin.


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.