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NRCS Special Initiative Could Help Greater Sage-Grouse Avoid ESA Listing

March 12, 2010

[Source: Environmental Defense Fund press release]

Conservation and rancher groups say a special initiative announced today by USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) could help recover the greater sage-grouse.  The initiative is designed to focus resources from two voluntary federal conservation programs NRCS administers: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).  EQIP and WHIP help farmers and ranchers reduce threats to declining species and conserve their sagebrush core habitat areas.

“We have a chance to keep the greater sage-grouse off of the endangered species list if it shows recovery progress,” said Ted Toombs, Rocky Mountain Regional Director of the Center for Conservation Incentives at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a member of several state technical committees for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  “This new NRCS initiative supports that goal across a very large landscape, which is an essential component to the larger recovery effort.  We applaud these kinds of federal initiatives that encourage cooperative conservation efforts in sagebrush country, to stitch back together fragments of sage-grouse habitat on private working lands.”

“Thanks to this NRCS program support, ranch communities will be able devote more resources to sagebrush habitat recovery as well as initiate new cooperative habitat revitalization efforts,” said Leo Barthelmess, a rancher in Malta, Montana and founding member of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, which works collaboratively with agencies, private landowners, non-governmental organizations and many other partners to conserve sage grouse habitat across a 1 million-acre landscape in eastern Montana.”

The NRCS announcement follows Friday’s determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted, but precluded by a backlog of other ESA candidate species, for at least one or more years.  While the greater sage-grouse remains a candidate for listing, it still is possible to keep it off of the endangered species list if it shows recovery progress.

Sage-grouse populations have declined from an estimated 320,000 males in 1965-1970 to less than 90,000 males on just over 5,000 communal stomping grounds called “leks” in the western United States, as of 2007 (see fact sheet at:  Greater sage-grouse currently occur in only 11 western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The bird’s remaining U.S. strongholds are in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon, according to NRCS.

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