The Future For Sage Grouse, Elk, & the 40 Million Acres of Sagebrush They Share | Bugle Magazine
December 16, 2015
It was a decision heralded by many as a victory of epic collaboration and by others as a missed opportunity: on September 22 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its conclusion that the greater sage grouse does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.
For David Naugle, national science advisor for the Sage Grouse Initiative, the ruling was, above all, a call to continued action.
“That’s the dirty little secret,” says Naugle, who has worked exclusively on protecting sage grouse habitat across the West for the past five years. “It’s never going to be over. If you want these critters on the planet, you’re going to have to do some management to keep them there.
Elk and sage grouse share 40 million acres of habitat, including critical winter range for some of the West’s largest elk herds. Projects to enhance sage grouse habitat often help both species. Cutting encroaching conifers opens up forage for elk and breeding grounds for sage grouse. Conservation easements ensure large swaths of unfragmented lands remain intact. Removing unnecessary fencing that entangles and kills sage grouse in flight also eliminates hazards for big game.
In a way, the no-list decision worked to further stimulate the collaborative efforts for sage grouse and the landscape on which they, mule deer, elk and many other species depend.
“In the really big picture, our goal is conservation of the sagebrush ecosystem, so we’re going to continue our work no matter what,” says Naugle.
Over the next few years, through SGI 2.0, the initiative will map and target priority areas for removing encroaching conifers on more than 102 million acres of sage grouse habitat, secure conservation easements to protect core habitat on private land, and encourage ranching and farming practices that benefit both sage grouse and livestock.
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.