SGI Presents At Symposium On Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Science informs all of SGI's conservation work, ensuring we put the right tools in the right places. This telemetry equipment tracks radio-collared sage grouse. Photo by Tatiana Gettelman

September 20, 2017

Science informs all of SGI’s conservation work, ensuring we have the right tools to target conservation in the right places. This telemetry equipment tracks radio-collared sage grouse. Photo by Tatiana Gettelman

Symposium highlights how Farm Bill programs benefit wildlife

On September 27th, Sage Grouse Initiative and Working Lands For Wildlife team members will present on how Farm Bill conservation programs deliver benefits for wildlife at The Wildlife Society’s 24th Annual Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This special symposium will highlight recent trends in documenting wildlife benefits from Farm Bill conservation programs, including how outcome-based monitoring can inform effective conservation delivery and how emerging technologies can help fill data gaps.

Private forests, farms, and ranches comprise over two-thirds of the contiguous United States. These working lands support the American economy, and also supply habitat for fish and wildlife, filter groundwater, and contribute to the nation’s cultural heritage.

Farm Bill conservation programs help keep working lands like this Wyoming ranch intact and sustainable for wildlife.

Farm Bill conservation programs benefit working lands and wildlife, including the sage grouse and cattle on this Wyoming ranch. Photo: Brianna Randall

Farm Bill supports working lands in sagebrush country

The Farm Bill provides for the nation’s largest investment in voluntary, private lands conservation—an estimated $58 billion over the next ten years. The Farm Bill typically follows a 5-year legislative cycle, and the 2014 Farm Bill is set to expire next year.

SGI relies on Farm Bill programs to fund voluntary practices and projects that benefit the sagebrush ecosystem on western ranchlands. These voluntary, incentive-based programs provide technical assistance and cost-sharing options for landowners wishing to improve wildlife habitat or address natural resource concerns on their land.

On the heels of an Endangered Species Act review in 2010, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service launched the Sage Grouse Initiative to reduce threats facing this iconic bird. Eight years later, employing a shared vision of wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching, SGI has matured into a primary catalyst for conservation of the sagebrush ecosystem. With over 1,500 participating ranches across 11 western states, SGI and partners have conserved 5.6 million acres, an area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

Radiotelemetry allows scientists to track sage grouse, helping improve conservation delivery on the ground.

Outcome-based monitoring improves conservation return on investment

Foundational to SGI’s success is our science program, which builds conservation targeting tools to maximize return on conservation investment, and assesses resulting outcomes of implementation. Documenting conservation outcomes provides accountability, plus these outcomes play a central role in telling the SGI story and modifying practices to improve program delivery.

A panel of SGI team members, led by Science Advisor David Naugle, will present during the Farm Bill Conservation Programs Symposium on the targeting tools and outcome-based assessments that underpin SGI’s success. The future of wildlife, agriculture and rural ways of life depend in part on our collective ability to transfer to other landscapes and focal species this science-based model.

We hope SGI’s knowledge and lessons learned can inform even more effective working lands conservation across America in the future.

SGI wildlife biologist receives prestigious scholarship award during conference

Andrew Olsen coordinates key research on how conifer removal impacts sage grouse populations.

Andrew Olsen coordinates key research on how conifer removal benefits sage grouse populations.

Andrew Olsen, a wildlife biologist and Ph.D student who is funded in part by SGI, will be awarded the Donald H. Rusch Memorial Game Bird Research Scholarship at The Wildlife Society’s 24th Annual Conference.

Olsen joined the research team at Oregon State University under Associate Professor Christian Hagen in 2015 after receiving an M.S. in Range and Wildlife Management from Texas A&M. His research focuses on documenting response of sage grouse to landscape-scale conifer removal in southeastern Oregon. Conifer encroachment threatens sage grouse populations, and widespread removal of conifers has become a common conservation practice across much of the bird’s range.

The Lakeview District Office of the Bureau of Land Management initiated a radio telemetry study of greater sage-grouse east of Lakeview, Oregon in 2009. The overall objective of the OSU study is to provide a long-term assessment of the effects of juniper removal on sage grouse habitat use and demography. The Surprise Valley Field Office of the BLM is currently supporting an expansion of the project into northern Nevada and California in preparation for planned juniper removals in that area, as well.

In addition to continuing baseline data collection and analysis, Olsen has added two new components to the study: (1) He designed a novel approach to measure the effect of juniper on connectivity between sage grouse breeding and summering areas, which will predict permeability and connectivity in the landscape and quantify the change as result of tree removal. (2) He will quantify the ecological cost and benefit of juniper and its removal using demographic data and connectivity metrics.

Olsen’s goal is to complete his Ph.D. by December 2018. Meanwhile, he will remain involved in directing field activities for this project. In addition to his excellent work coordinating field research and analyzing data, Olsen enjoys hunting, fishing, and birding in his free time.

One of SGI’s primary conservation actions, funded through the Farm Bill, is strategically removing encroaching conifers on private lands to improve sage grouse habitat. Olsen’s work studying sage grouse movements using telemetry will inform future conservation actions on working lands across the West’s sagebrush rangelands.

Learn more about SGI science and research >



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.