Sage Grouse Conservation Spending Reaches $300m
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s spent about $300 million to help restore and conserve more than 4 million acres of sage grouse habitat, according to a report the department issued Thursday.
One of the goals of the agency’s sage grouse initiative is to work with ranchers to improve rangeland across the West. That's meant controlling noxious weeds, restoring native grass and vegetation, and removing juniper and other conifer trees — some of the major threats to sage grouse habitat in the Northwest.
The chicken-sized birds live in shrub-steppe ecosystems in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and eight other Western states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to decide this September whether to add the greater sage grouse to the endangered species list. In 2010 it was determined that the greater sage grouse warranted a placement on the list. Other species were in more dire trouble, so the bird was wait-listed.
Robert Bonnie, the under secretary for natural resources and environment, said the sage grouse initiative is an attempt to create certainty for landowners if the bird is indeed listed. That certainty would be achieved, he said, by exempting landowners who participate in the initiative from future regulations.
“There’s no doubt that listing of the species can create a regulatory framework for private landowners and others that can be challenging,” Bonnie said, adding that his agency is trying to set out for landowners "the rules of the road going forward that allow them to ranch profitably as well as protect rare species like the sage grouse.”
John O’Keeffe is a rancher in Adel, Oregon. He's also the president-elect of the. O’Keeffe says he’s worked to enhance sage grouse habitat by controlling juniper trees on 4,500 acres of his ranch.
“It’s helped make our ranching operation more sustainable,” O’Keeffe said. “It has allowed us to positively effect our watershed function. It has showcased the value of engaging working ranches in landscape-scale conservation.”
Some ranchers say listing the greater sage grouse could have a larger impact on their industry than the spotted owl listing had on the timber industry.
But some environmental groups say that’s not the case. They say delaying listing the bird could lead to more habitat destruction and the eventual extinction of the species.
The USDA says it will continue to help conserve land through the sage grouse initiative through 2018. Bonnie said the department will spend an additional $200 million, which he said should increase the birds' conserved habitat to more than 7 million acres.
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