In the middle of Nevada, miles from anywhere, eight Native American young adults spent their summer working to improve sagebrush habitat for the greater sage-grouse. Habitat for this ground-dwelling bird, native to much of the American West, has been dwindling in recent years, due to fencing, wildfires and invasive species.
The young adults, all residents of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation and the Battle Mountain Indian Colony, range in age from 18 to 26. They were happy to find work that would let them be outdoors and physically active. Their employment was made possible by a partnership between the Bootstraps Program of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Lander County and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The Bootstraps Program teaches life skills and job responsibility by combining formal classroom instruction with real outdoor work experience. NRCS’ role was to provide technical guidance and financial assistance through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
The eight young people are working to restore sage-grouse habitat on 1,000 acres of public land and 400 acres of private land. Restoration means the removal of invasive pinyon pine and juniper trees in order to provide optimal conditions for the native sagebrush that provides food and cover for the greater sage-grouse.
In June, the Bootstraps workers received intensive training from Extension specialists covering use of chainsaws, two-way radios, satellite phones and GPS units, as well as safety, first aid and basic job skills. Once trained and equipped, they started work.
They removed only certain pinyon pine and juniper trees. They left old-growth trees standing, as well as trees on steep slopes, because removing them would create other problems, like erosion.
The cut trees were left on the ground to protect the soil from erosion and provide shelter for wildlife.
When the crew wasn’t cutting trees, they were fencing springs and meadow areas to protect them from overuse by livestock or wild horses. Meadows are critical habitat for young sage-grouse.
All of the young adults say they have enjoyed the experience—especially working outside, and with their hands.
Most of the pinyon pine and juniper will be cut this fall, and next year a new Bootstraps crew will finish it and start work in other areas.
Find out more about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
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