Stories From the Range: New Report Highlights Ranchers Restoring Habitat for Sage Grouse

June 8, 2015

(Photo of the O’Toole family on the Ladder Ranch in Savery, Wyoming, featured in this new publication. Courtesy of Pat O’Toole.)

Download the Sand County Foundation publication Stories From The Range: Ranching and Sage Grouse Conservation

Read the USDA blog about the report authored by Tim Griffiths, NRCS SGI National Coordinator.

We are pleased to announce the arrival of the Sand County Foundation’s publication “Stories From The Range,” which showcases six different ranchers’ sage grouse conservation success stories.  This compelling report demonstrates how the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative and our many partners are making positive inroads restoring and protecting habitat for sage grouse and many other wildlife species.

This excerpt from the Sand County Foundation’s report introduction sums up why SGI teams up with private landowners on voluntary conservation projects: “More than 60 percent of America’s lands are privately owned, and most rare species depend upon these private lands for their survival.  America must encourage, empower, and learn from the efforts of these “conservation entrepreneurs” if we hope to pass along healthy land and abundant wildlife to future generations.”

The following article by SGI National Coordinator Tim Griffiths appeared on the USDA Blog.

New Report Highlights Ranchers Restoring Habitat for Sage Grouse

 John O’Keefe raises cattle in southeast Oregon, where he has made improvements to his land that help his ranching operation and improve the habitat for sage grouse.

John O’Keefe raises cattle in southeast Oregon, where he has made improvements to his land that help his ranching operation and improve the habitat for sage grouse.

Aldo Leopold once said, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Those words are powerful, especially in the West, where ranchers are partnering up to benefit sage grouse and the 350 other species that share its vast habitat.

Today, the Sand County Foundation, a non-profit organization named for Leopold’s signature book, “A Sand County Almanac,” released a report showcasing the dedication of private landowners in conserving this at-risk species that is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The foundation’s “Stories from the Range” report highlights the stewardship of ranchers, who working with local, state and federal partners, have restored and protected 4.4 million acres of prime sage grouse habitat – an area of working lands the size of two Yellowstone National Parks.

The Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), a partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), has been the driving force in private lands conservation efforts for sage grouse. That’s because big and intact sagebrush grazing lands are also good habitat for sage grouse. It’s a win-win effort benefiting the bird and the rural ways of life that sustain these landscapes.

Through SGI, NRCS provides landowners with technical and financial assistance to make conservation improvements, in a way “rewarding” them for their stewardship. This partnership helps remove invading conifers, protects key lands through easements and makes other rangeland improvements that lead to healthier sage grouse habitat. Since 2010, SGI has collectively invested more than $420 million in on-the-ground habitat improvements.

The report – through its stories of stewardship-minded ranchers – highlights how and why these conservation efforts are so successful.

John O’Keefe, who grazes cattle on his land and nearby public lands in southeast Oregon, has worked through SGI to remove invading conifers that jeopardize the quality of habitat for sage grouse and forage for cattle. But the trees aren’t removed at random. Targeted conservation work focuses on the younger trees that are creeping into sagebrush habitat, where efforts can have the biggest positive outcome.

A male sage grouse struts for nearby hens. Photo by Tatiana Gettelman.

A male sage grouse struts for nearby hens. Photo by Tatiana Gettelman.

Andy Taft, who raises sheep on Parker Mountain in Utah, is no stranger to sage grouse, having watched them all of his life. And he knows that sage grouse serve as an indicator of a healthy range: more sage grouse means better forage for his herd. That’s why he has worked cooperatively for years to actively manage and enhance the sagebrush habitat to ensure it’s as productive as possible for both. His efforts are now paying dividends with a steady increase of sage grouse and the highest chick survival rate in history, recorded by researchers at Utah State.

Finally, Fred Fulstone, part of several generations who have etched out a living raising livestock in Nevada’s picturesque Smith Valley, proves that agriculture and wildlife can thrive together. His ranch also demonstrates that conservation doesn’t only benefit sage grouse and the rancher, but a whole host of other wildlife, like mule deer and pronghorn.

Collectively, the work these ranchers have done through SGI demonstrates the benefits and potential of private lands conservation. By prioritizing conservation, ranchers like O’Keefe, Taft and Fulstone are boosting their land’s productivity, providing wildlife habitat and demonstrating the vital role that private lands play in conservation.

Learn more about the “Stories from the Range” report and the Sage Grouse Initiative. To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or


Download the Sand County Foundation publication here.


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.