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Innovative Sage-Grouse Protection Agreement Takes Flight

By Brad Fisher, Natural Resources Conservation Service Public Affairs Division

Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and Rowan Gould, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed on April 13 a first-of-its-kind agreement that combines protection of sage grouse and sagebrush habitats with the business interests of ranchers in 11 Western states.

What makes this agreement unique?

“It lets NRCS and the Fish and Wildlife Service work together to provide certainty to ranchers,” said White. “By certainty, I mean that it lets them address threats to sage grouse and sage grouse habitat in ways that benefit the natural resources on their operations while allowing them to operate at the same time.  This is a win-win for ranchers and for sage grouse.”

The technical assistance that NRCS is going to provide is absolutely vital to the success of this effort, White said. “Ranchers who work with us will have access to our rangeland conservationists, soil scientists and biologists. Our Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program will be there to help them install practices.”

For its part, the Fish and Wildlife Service will use the authorities of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to provide participants with reasonable assurances that what they do to protect sage grouse and sage grouse habitat will be consistent with the ESA should the sage grouse later be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

Nearly 44 percent of sage grouse habitat has in recent years been lost due to agriculture, urban development, energy production and transmission, invasive weeds and wildfire. The human footprint across the area where greater sage-grouse live is becoming larger as the country strives for energy independence, agriculture, development and other, often competing uses.

“I want to thank the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking this step in working with agriculture,” White said. “It’s going to give ranchers opportunities to protect the sage grouse and, at the same time, let them raise their cattle, pay their rent, send their kids to school, buy their groceries, while letting them be ranchers.”

This year represents the 75th year of NRCS helping people help the land.

Dave White (left), Chief, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Servce and Rowan Gould (right), Acting Director, Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service sign a partnership agreement to promote and preserve greater sage-grouse habitat and sagebrush ecosystems in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 13.
NRCS Chief Dave White (left) and Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould. USDA image.

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