Sagebrush Framework in Focus: Wildlife Conservation Through Sustainable Ranching
April 22, 2021
The Framework for Conservation Action in the Sagebrush Biome details the next five years of WLFW’s approach to conservation in sagebrush country.
For the last 11 years, the Sage Grouse Initiative, as part of the USDA-NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) approach to private land conservation, has worked with more than 2,100 landowners to conserve more than eight million acres of western rangelands to benefit people and wildlife.
Building on this success, the NRCS recently released an action-based framework detailing how WLFW will continue to leverage the power of the Farm Bill to conserve this landscape. Called the “Framework for Conservation Action in the Sagebrush Biome,” the new approach outlines key threats facing sagebrush landscapes and how voluntary, incentive-based conservation can address them to improve agricultural productivity and wildlife habitat.
This biome-level approach is necessary because so much of these landscapes are privately owned. Nearly two-thirds of the working rangelands west of the Mississippi River are privately owned, encompassing productive grass and shrublands that are home to more than 350 plant and animal species. These working lands include the sweeping Great Plains grasslands and the iconic sagebrush sea, the largest single habitat type in North America.
As a result, successful conservation relies on working with landowners and ranchers to improve working rangelands to benefit wildlife and the communities that rely on this land and have stewarded them for generations.
The Framework for Conservation Action in the Sagebrush Biome is the result of a multi-state planning effort that, alongside a separate but similar Great Plains grasslands-focused framework, represents the first biome-scale approach to conserving private lands from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
Rangelands are being lost at an alarming rate – more than a million acres lost annually. The framework specifically provides an approach to target the four most severe and large-scale threats to the sagebrush biome:
- Exotic annual grass invasion
- Land use conversion
- Woodland expansion
- Riparian and wet meadow degradation
Over the next five years, WLFW will work with landowners and partners to address these threats on more than 1.7 million acres of sagebrush country.
Focusing on the most severe threats to sagebrush rangeland in a scientifically grounded and partnership-based manner provides the best opportunities for success in this vast landscape. Efforts like the Cheatgrass Challenge, launched in 2020 by the NRCS in Idaho, exemplify the landscape-scale, partnership-based conservation approach outlined in the framework.
Individual states will work directly with producers and landowners to provide technical expertise and access to USDA funding programs. WLFW will support these state efforts through annual progress tracking, milestone reporting, assistance in spatial targeting, and ongoing science-based assessments of conservation outcomes.
Importantly, WLFW’s work on western rangeland doesn’t stop where the sagebrush transitions to the prairie. By developing both the sagebrush and Great Plains grassland frameworks in concert, WLFW has provided a common vision and coordination point to address resource concerns and ecosystem threats across state and ecosystem boundaries while maximizing the flexibility for delivering voluntary conservation programs tailored to local needs.
Both frameworks are grounded in peer-reviewed science and utilize the innovative Rangelands Analysis Platform to prioritize where conservation investments will realize the greatest returns.
Ranchers and landowners can learn more about how NRCS combines on-the-ground expertise with new scientific tools to defend intact grasslands at their local NRCS service center. Visit the NRCS Service Center Locator: https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs and click the state and then county for contact information.
>> Watch a recorded presentation about the frameworks
>> Check out the full Framework for Conservation Action in the Sagebrush Biome
>> Interested in the Great Plains? Read the Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grasslands Biome
>> Want to know about WLFW? The 2021 Working Lands for Wildlife Magazine features producer partnerships and success stories for voluntary conservation efforts
>> Find out more information about WLFW at farmers.gov/wildlife
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.