Feds announce sage grouse habitat protections

Apr 23, 2010
by WLJ

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced a farreaching agreement to support the conservation of greater sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems in parts of 11 western states.

“Today’s agreement enables us to help this rare species in a comprehensive, integrated way,” said Vilsack. “By working cooperatively toward the same goal, we can build on the progress states have made protecting the sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem it depends on.”

“The greater sage grouse has historically inhabited millions of acres in the West, and if we are going to conserve the species, we must work across political and administrative boundaries at a landscape scale to protect and restore its sagebrush habitat,” Salazar said.

“This agreement gives us a framework to prevent further habitat fragmentation and undertake other conservation efforts in partnership with states, tribes, private landowners and other stakeholders.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White and Rowan Gould, acting director of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed the partnership agreement to promote and preserve greater sage grouse habitat and sagebrush ecosystems.

The agreement ensures beneficial and consistent actions for conservation of greater sage grouse habitat and provides a collaborative framework for states and private landowners. For its part, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is committing to work with NRCS to use the authorities of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to provide participating landowners with reasonable assurances that their activities will be consistent with the act should the sage grouse later be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

In March, Vilsack announced a new initiative to protect sage grouse population and habitat using two popular USDA conservation programs—Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program. USDA will provide up to $16 million this fiscal year to provide financial assistance for producers to reduce threats to the birds such as disease and invasive species and improve sage grouse habitat. Producers can sign up through April 23 to participate in the first round of rankings for this initiative.

Also in March, USFWS announced that the greater sage grouse warrants the protection of the ESA. However, the service determined that adding the species to the federal list of threatened and endangered species at this time is precluded by the need to address higher priority species first. As a result, the greater sage grouse will be placed on the list of candidate species and will be proposed for protection under the act as funding and priorities dictate.

For more information on the NRCS and USFWS greater sage grouse agreement, or other conservation issues, please visit: www. nrcs.usda.gov or www.fws. gov. — WLJ