- The greater sage-grouse, an iconic ground-dwelling bird of the West, has experienced significant population declines during the past 50 years from habitat loss. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated sage grouse in 2010 as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In September 2015, the FWS will determine whether to list the greater sage-grouse under the ESA or find that ongoing efforts to restore and protect sagebrush habitat are sufficient to ensure their long-term survival. Loss and fragmentation of sage grouse habitat is the primary threat and has a number of contributors, including human development and encroachment of conifer trees and invasive plants.
NRCS is working with ranchers to address these threats on private lands through restoring and protecting key sage grouse habitat while ensuring grazing lands remain sustainable and profitable. NRCS launched the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) in 2010 to focus efforts that reduce threats facing sage grouse and the working lands that provide their habitat.
NRCS uses a variety of Farm Bill conservation programs to restore and protect habitat, including habitat improvements through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and long-term conservation easements through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Since 2010, NRCS has invested more than $296.5 million to implement SGI. Conservation partners and landowners have contributed an additional $128 million, bringing the total SGI investment to $424.5 million.
Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0
NRCS plans to commit approximately $211 million to SGI over the life of the 2014 Farm Bill, providing partners with certainty that conservation will continue well into the future. SGI 2.0 will invest around $93 million in habitat restoration through EQIP and $100 million in conservation easements through ACEP. NRCS will invest the remaining $18 million to support SGI staff and partners who work with ranchers and other partners to implement conservation actions on the ground and quantify resulting outcomes.
This four-year commitment combined with funds leveraged by partners will bring the total SGI investment to approximately $760 million. Already underway in 2015, additional resources are enabling SGI to nearly double past achievements, putting SGI on the path to conserve about 8 million acres by 2018.
NRCS also plans to add the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) as another tool for conservation, beginning with a pilot in 2015 of up to 275,000 acres. CSP, like EQIP, provides technical and financial assistance to ranchers who restore habitat. Through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, NRCS partners have opportunities to propose projects that benefit sage grouse habitat.
Agency leaders and partners worked together at the state level to describe priorities for reducing threats to sage grouse habitat, identifying locations for projects and cost estimates. SGI 2.0 combines plans from 11 states into one cohesive, rangewide plan that will guide the agency’s conservation efforts. SGI 2.0 aligns with plans of local, state and federal partners, including plans by governors, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. The four-year strategy enables NRCS to better position staff for implementation and provides time for partners to leverage additional funding for identified priorities.