- Prior to settlement in the 19th century, greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter referred to as ‘sage-grouse’) inhabited 13 western States and three Canadian provinces, and their potential habitat covered over 1,200,483 square kilometers (km) (463,509 square miles (mi)). Sage-grouse have declined across their range due to a variety of causes and now occur in 11 States and two Canadian provinces. Many factors played a role in reducing sage-grouse from a once abundant, broadly distributed species, but the primary threat is loss of habitat due to increased surface disturbance and general fragmentation of the landscape. These concerns were identified in the 2005 Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing finding and remain so, but with more intensity and on a larger scale today. In the 2010 listing finding, additional concerns were identified as threats, including an increase in the use of sagebrush habitat for renewable energy such as wind power, and the spread of West Nile Virus (WNv).
In anticipation of a final listing decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Wyoming Governor’s Office (WGO) requested assistance from the FWS in developing a sage-grouse strategy for ranch management activities that could offer private landowners assurances their livestock operations could continue in the event the species was listed under the ESA. The WGO and FWS in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S Forest Service (USFS), the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA), Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts have developed this umbrella Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).
A CCAA is a voluntary agreement whereby private landowners agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to species at risk of being listed under the ESA. In return for managing their lands to the benefit of species at risk, these landowners receive assurances against additional regulatory requirements should that species ever be listed under the ESA. Under a CCAA, the FWS will issue enrolled landowners Enhancement of Survival (EOS) permits pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA for a period of 20 years. Since the agreement is voluntary, the landowner can end it at any point, although in doing so they would give up any assurances, and the EOS permit would terminate. FWS will issue EOS permits to participating landowners contingent on development of a site-specific individual sage-grouse conservation plan consistent with this umbrella CCAA. This umbrella CCAA includes:
A general description of responsibilities of all involved participating agencies and landowners, and the area covered under the umbrella CCAA;
Background, status and general threats to sage-grouse, and conservation measures needed to remove or reduce those identified threats;
Expected benefits of prescribed actions in relation to the five threat factors the FWS is required to evaluate when considering a species for listing; and
Level of take likely to occur from activities on enrolled lands, assurances, monitoring, and annual reporting.