Sports A Field

Good for the Bird, Good for the Herd

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The Sage Grouse Initiative helps a game bird, improves big-game habitat, and even helps ranchers feed their cattle.

An impressive 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage grouse has been restored in just the past four years as a result of public/private partnerships through the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), according to a new report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of this work has been done through SGI’s partnerships with private landowners who find that the work done to preserve habitat for the wild birds is also beneficial to their rangelands and provides better grazing and food availability for their livestock.

“We’re working with ranchers who are taking proactive steps to improve habitat for sage grouse while improving the sustainability of their agricultural operations,” said Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie.

Efforts range from establishing conservation easements that prevent subdivision of working ranches to improving and restoring habitat through removal of invasive trees, especially conifers. More than a third of the easement acreage is in Wyoming, which contains 40 percent of the sage grouse population. In Oregon, more than 100 ranchers removed conifers from 200,000 acres of key nesting and wintering habitats for sage grouse, which also improved the forage available on their grazing land.

“American ranchers are working with us to help sage grouse because they know they are helping an at-risk bird while also improving the food available for their livestock,” Bonnie said. “As the saying goes, ‘What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.'”

What’s good for the bird is also good for herds of elk and mule deer, too, since these big-game animals share 40 million acres of key habitat with sage grouse. Crucial elk winter range, in particular, overlaps with core areas of sage grouse habitat.

The conservation programs funded by the 2014 Farm Bill mean that another $200 million will be added to sage grouse conservation efforts over the next four years.

SGI was launched in 2010 as a new paradigm for keeping the sage grouse off the Endangered Species List by using partnerships to get the most out of every dollar spent on conservation. Learn more at www.sagegrouseinitiative.com.

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