Selected tag(s): greater sage-grouse

“We sink or swim together” in the sagebrush sea, and beyond

Western governors, landowners, conservationists and others celebrated the collaborative and bipartisan conservation effort that led to a "not warranted" listing decision for sage-grouse in September 2015.

Today, the Interior Department opened up federal sage-grouse plans to potential changes, despite the concerns of many state, industry, landowner and conservation stakeholders across the country.

John Swartout, a senior policy advisor to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, said that it would be bad for Colorado if the sage-grouse plan, developed over years with local and state involvement, was eliminated, for fears that this would lead to a future Endangered Species Act listing.

“We didn’t work this hard to throw it all away and get a listing,” he said, echoing concerns of others that upending the plans could ultimately lead to the sage-grouse being listed.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead reiterated what many western governors have told Secretary Zinke – that the states should be consulted about revisions to the plans because they are ultimately the ones who have to face the consequences if the plans fail and a federal listing is warranted.

“If it was a state by state listing decision, that’d be one thing,” Mead said. “But the way we are with the law right now, if one state gets listed, we all are going to get listed. We sink or swim together.” Read More »

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A bird has united thousands. It will not divide us.

An icon of the sagebrush sea, the greater sage-grouse is a sight to behold. Males often gather in large numbers to woo females and strut with chests puffed and spiky tails fanned. (Photo credit: Tatiana Gettelman)

It was a sunny, cool morning – a typical September day in Colorado. I pulled up to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and walked towards a stage where the state flags for Colorado, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming waved in the wind alongside the American flag.

It was a good morning. Then-Secretary of the Interior Department, Sally Jewell, had announced earlier that morning that the greater sage-grouse – a bird with habitat spanning parts of 11 western states – was “not warranted” for listing under the Endangered Species Act, thanks to one of the largest collaborative conservation efforts in America’s history.

A success story in the sagebrush sea

Sixteen million sage-grouse once roamed the American West. The Plain Indian tribes lived among the birds, hunting them for food and mimicking the males in their ceremonial dances. Meriwether Lewis spotted them “in great abundance” in 1805 during his expedition with William Clark, providing the first written account of the species.

As of 2010, there were approximately 200,000 to 500,000 birds remaining.

Read More »

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What we've learned from 50 years of wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation practices are helping protect our nation's treasured emblem: the bald eagle

Photo: © Holger Ehlers

When the first endangered species list was created 50 years ago, it started out with 78 animals. The grizzly bear and bald eagle were among American icons that made that first list.

Today, it counts 1,400 animals and 900 plants – an expansion that reflects more petitions for listings over time, but also the fact that threats to habitats and ecosystems have become more widespread and complex.

In the early days of the Endangered Species Act, we could more easily identify the threat and go straight to the source. When DDT was thinning egg shells, killing embryos and endangering multiple bird species, we worked to curb applications of the harmful pesticide. After a federal ban against DDT, the problem was solved.

Today, threats are more likely to come from broad landscape changes that occur when growing populations push housing and commercial developments outward, energy development and large-scale farming fragment and encroach on habitats, and climate change-related droughts and wildfires degrade entire ecosystems. Read More »

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Let’s make ESA listings extinct, not wildlife

Prairie-chicken

The listing process for the lesser prairie-chicken was tumultuous, with a 2016 ruling that stripped the bird of its previous federal protections and sparked questions about ESA implementation, in addition to what moral obligation humans have to protect wildlife. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Since the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing two weeks ago to discuss the “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” a new public debate over the act’s effectiveness has begun, even if the arguments on each side haven’t changed much.

On one hand, reform proponents point to the fact that only 47 of 1,652 species have been removed from the Endangered Species List since 1973. On the other, the act’s defenders note that nearly every species on the list has been saved from extinction.

Yet those may be the wrong metrics. Instead, we may want to ask why those species end up on the list in the first place, and whether we are taking common-sense approaches to wildlife conservation before they do. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

The private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlifeBy this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Despite a new political landscape, landscape conservation commitments remain

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush landscape in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

The presidential election has changed the political landscape both nationally and in the states we work. As we continue to make sense of the changes, what hasn’t changed is the commitment of many state leaders – Republicans and Democrats – to protecting our nation’s treasured landscapes.

In Nevada, the state just made a second wave of funding available to Nevada landowners who enhance and restore high-quality habitat for greater sage-grouse. This funding supplements an initial $1 million made available earlier this year to fund the first four credit projects through the Nevada Conservation Credit System (CCS).

Nevada created the CCS to keep the greater sage-grouse off the Endangered Species List and to provide a robust, efficient mitigation program for industries seeking to offset impacts to the imperiled bird’s habitat. Under the system, landowners sell credits to industries needing to mitigate future disturbances to the bird’s habitat in order to receive permits from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Read More »

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What do western ranchers and a southern environmentalist have in common?

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

I trace my love of the outdoors to two memories: the first, sitting with my grandmother watching the goldfinches, chickadees and wrens that visited her feeder, and the second, camping in Pisgah National Forest with my parents and sister.

Days spent with my grandmother in our small South Carolina town left an indelible mark on my life. She taught me a conservation ethic that led me to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Camping taught me a love of the land and a respect for those that manage it.

As director of habitat markets, I’m focused on building conservation solutions for wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, a bird that lives more than 2,000 miles from my home in a landscape unlike any of the forests or farms I grew up exploring.

The sage-grouse is an indicator species of a vast declining ecosystem spanning more than 150 million acres across 11 states. The grouse relies on the cover of sagebrush – one of the most iconic symbols of the western landscape.

Because EDF puts a premium on policy, science and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, we’ve been working with landowners, industry, and state and federal agencies to create a habitat exchange program to better ensure the bird’s survival. Common values make this collaboration possible. Read More »

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First-ever habitat exchange opens for business

Nevada rancher works to conserve sage-grouse

Nearly two dozen Nevada landowners have already submitted letters of interest to generate conservation credits for sage-grouse through the exchange. Read more >>

For the first time ever, ranchers are able to enroll in a habitat credit exchange program to earn revenue for activities that protect and enhance habitat for the greater sage-grouse.

The state of Nevada and federal agencies today announced the approved use of the Nevada Conservation Credit System to protect the grouse’s sagebrush habitat on public lands.

This program will create a robust mitigation market that will bring greater certainty and transparency to the state’s agriculture and energy industries, ultimately allowing both sage-grouse and the economy to flourish.

About the Nevada Conservation Credit System

The Nevada Conservation Credit System is an advanced approach to protecting habitat for the greater sage-grouse that ensures impacts are fully offset in a way that helps create net benefit. It does so by creating new incentives for industries to avoid and minimize impacts, and for private landowners and public land managers to preserve, enhance, and restore habitat. Read More »

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Lesser prairie-chicken numbers are up. Is it good conservation or just good weather?

2015 marked the end of a five year drought, bringing much needed relief to the parched prairie region. But climate impacts such as drought and wildfires are only expected to increase in duration and frequency in the future, so one wet year is not going to be sufficient to protect lesser prairie-chickens in the long run.

2015 marked the end of a five-year drought, bringing relief to the parched prairie region. But climate impacts like drought and wildfires are only expected to increase in the future, threatening lesser prairie-chicken recovery efforts. Credit: Lesser Prairie Chicken via photopin (license)

Recent media reports have touted population rebounds for the lesser prairie-chicken – up 25 percent from last year. That’s great news for the bird, which was nearly wiped out in recent years as booming oil and gas industries encroached on the bird’s range across Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as “threatened” in March 2015, at the same time that the five states embarked on a conservation plan of their own. The plan was officially assembled and endorsed by the five members of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

Now that bird numbers are up, WAFWA is claiming success – attributing the chicken’s rebound to effective implementation of their Lesser Prairie-Chicken Rangewide Conservation Plan (RWP). Certainly that program has provided some benefit, but the key question is whether the program has been a big enough boost to set the lesser prairie-chicken on a path to recovery. Read More »

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My life’s work: Building strategies for ag and industry to protect wildlife

Could the monarch butterfly be the next passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

Could the monarch butterfly face the same plight of the passenger pigeon? Read more in Modern Farmer.

When I think about what motivates me as a conservationist, I often reflect on the bird species we’ve lost – the Carolina parakeet, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the passenger pigeon.

I remember these species when I work to create pathways to prevent extinction for today’s at-risk wildlife – the lesser prairie-chicken, the golden-cheeked warbler and the greater sage-grouse.

But it’s not just the birds that inspire me. It’s also the people.

My role as director of conservation strategy and habitat markets often requires me to cultivate partnerships with ranchers, farmers, oilmen and large multinational corporations. It’s incredibly satisfying to work with this diverse set of stakeholders to find common ground. Sure, we all have different interests driving us, but I am steadfast in my belief that we can protect natural resources, while at the same time enabling the responsible production of food, fuel and fiber. Read More »

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