Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): sage grouse

USDA taps ranchers to continue stewarding sage-grouse habitat

greater sage grouseU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a four-year strategy to invest more that $200 million in greater sage-grouse conservation efforts.

The strategy, known as Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0, will build on successful public and private conservation efforts to improve sage-grouse habitat by providing additional assistance for ranchers to make conservation improvements to their land.

It’s encouraging to see USDA remaining at the forefront of federal efforts to move sage-grouse protection forward. This funding is a huge boost for sage-grouse, but there are opportunities through emerging programs for impact industries to do even more to protect this iconic bird. Read More »

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The devastation of the Soda Fire, and the seeds of hope for the future

soda fire

Wildlife warning sign on Highway 95.

My family and I returned home to California a few days ago following an idyllic week camping on Payette Lake near McCall, Idaho. Our route home took us down Highway 95 in southwestern Idaho, a road typically bordered by the beautiful farmlands of the Snake River Basin. But our views weren’t so picturesque.

Just south of Nampa, Idaho we began to notice the charred landscape left behind by the Soda Fire, the largest of recent fires burning across the United States. The Soda Fire has burned more than 280,000 acres of prime sagebrush steppe, which provides key grazing lands for cattle ranchers and important habitat for threatened wildlife like the greater sage-grouse.

As I gazed upon the aftermath of the fire, all I could think about was the devastating effects it has had on local ranching families and wildlife. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to restore these scorched landscapes and prevent damaging wildfires in the future, but we have to act fast. Read More »

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Feds call for cooperative conservation on sage grouse, states deliver

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller

An unprecedented, collaborative effort” was a blog published last week in The Hill by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Last week, leaders of the four federal agencies dealing most closely with issues surrounding the greater sage-grouse delivered a strong public message: As long as stakeholders continue to work together, we can save this bird and preclude the need for listing.

The message was powerful – not just because it was endorsed by four of our nation’s top thinkers on conservation, but because it was optimistic.

“We have seen what’s possible when we all pull our oars in the same direction,” they wrote.

This is a fundamental turning of the tides in the conversation around sage grouse. Previously, the dialogue has been pointed, with industry interests, agriculture interests and wildlife interests caught in crosshairs. But the discourse has changed, and it’s because the situation on the ground has changed. Read More »

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USDA: Helping ranchers is crucial to helping sage-grouse

Central Oregon rancher restores sage-grouse habitat with NRCS assistance. Source: nrcs.usda.gov

Central Oregon rancher restores sage-grouse habitat with NRCS assistance. Source: nrcs.usda.gov

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just announced new funding to support sage-grouse habitat conservation on working lands.

This is very promising, considering the last round of sage-grouse funding engaged more than 1,000 ranchers to conserve 4.4 million acres of bird habitat – an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

That last round of funding – made available in 2010 through the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Sage Grouse Initiative – invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat. Today, NRCS pledged to extend these efforts by $200 million over another for years.

Doubling down on a good investment
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No time to wait: sage grouse delay gives urgency to conservation

The greater sage-grouse

The greater sage-grouse

You may have seen a strange looking bird causing quite a stir in the news recently. That’s because there’s a lot at stake with the greater sage-grouse, especially now that a rider in the federal spending bill prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the species under the Endangered Species Act in 2015 (a decision was originally expected in September). But this delay isn’t stopping ranchers, conservationists and other key stakeholder from moving full speed ahead to find a solution.

You might not get this sense from the political dialog and the media, but out on the ground, there is a real spirit of cooperation when it comes to the greater sage-grouse. That’s because everyone realizes that – rider or no rider, listing or no listing – this bird needs help.

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Farmers and ranchers can help bring birds back from the brink

A raptor adapted to the open grasslands, the Swainson's hawk has become increasingly dependent on agriculture, especially alfalfa crops, as native communities are converted to agricultural lands.

A raptor adapted to the open grasslands, the Swainson’s hawk has become increasingly dependent on agriculture in California, especially alfalfa crops, as native communities are converted to agricultural lands.

The 2014 State of the Birds report, released this week, sends a message that is both somber and hopeful: we can bring vulnerable bird species back from the brink of extinction, but there is a lot of work to be done.

While some once-abundant species have rebounded in response to habitat restoration and management, others continue to decline. If we want to put our nation’s birds on a path to recovery, farmers and ranchers have a critical role to play.

Success stories show the way

Iconic bird species like bald eagles, brown pelicans and peregrine falcons that were once teetering on the edge of extinction are thriving again. California condors, with their spectacular 10-foot wingspans, went extinct in the wild in 1987. Today, 225 individuals soar once again over several western states.

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We don’t have to pit wildlife against the economy

Greater sage grouse. Photo credit:  Steven Nehl

Greater sage grouse. Photo credit: Steven Nehl

This post was co-written by Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and executive director of Partners for Western Conservation.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A rancher, an environmentalist, and an oil company exec walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and asks, “Is this a joke?”

On the surface we may seem like an odd group, but ranchers, energy companies and environmentalists are finding each other willing partners in solving big conservation problems.

Colorado is one of 11 Western states where an iconic rangeland bird, the greater sage grouse, nests in high desert topography that’s also perfect ground for cattle ranching. And in recent years, Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry has encroached on the bird’s habitat.

That puts the bird’s future on a collision course with the state’s two largest economic drivers: agriculture and energy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2015 deadline to decide if the greater sage grouse should be protected by an Endangered Species Act listing. Listing could severely crimp both energy production and ranching across a vast territory.

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