Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the USDA Blog. See the original post here.
Today, USDA released its new long-term investment strategy for sage grouse conservation—Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 (SGI 2.0). USDA’s planned investments will complement the great conservation work already happening throughout the West and build on the work of the Sage Grouse Initiative, a partnership between USDA, ranchers and conservation groups that began in 2010. SGI 2.0 provides our partners a roadmap to fill unmet needs by rallying around a cohesive, partnership-focused conservation strategy that is good for cattle ranches, good for the bird, good for rural economies and good for sustaining the Western way of life.
The SGI 2.0 investment strategy is intended to be a living document, shaped by the best available science and the priorities of our partners. SGI 2.0 and other strategic partnership initiatives like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program underscore the growing demand for a new conservation philosophy of putting local partners in the driver’s seat and allowing them to set priorities and develop strategies that make sense for their operations and communities while still meeting conservation goals.
In April, we saw the power of strategic, partner-driven conservation on private lands, when the Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposal to list the Bi-State sage-grouse, a geographically distinct population of the bird, on the Endangered Species List. Other successes include the recent decisions not to list the Arctic grayling in Montana, the proposed delisting of the Louisiana black bear, and the recent delisting of the Oregon chub, all due in part to the success of private lands conservation.
These decisions underline the importance of continuing our work to restore and protect habitat through SGI 2.0. Strategies like SGI 2.0 not only help to provide better habitat and better protection for species, they provide greater predictability and certainty for producers. This is a strategy that works for producers, as evidenced by the fact that 1,129 ranchers in 11 states have already partnered with us to make conservation improvements through the Sage Grouse Initiative to 4.4 million acres—an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.
SGI 2.0 will allow USDA and ranchers to conserve up to a total of 8 million acres of sage grouse habitat—an area more than seven times the Great Salt Lake—and will bring the total investment in sage grouse conservation to an anticipated $760 million by 2018.
SGI 2.0 relies on tools like conservation improvements and habitat improvement to get the job done. For example, more conservation easements will continue to stitch together the landscape, reducing the impacts of exurban development on sage grouse, in places like Idaho’s Pioneer Mountains, and protecting the wet meadows in places like the Bi-State region. During the past five years, SGI has grown the amount of land in easements 18-fold.
Meanwhile, SGI 2.0 will continue removing invasive conifers and grasses, which degrade sagebrush habitat and provide fuel for unwanted wildfire. For example, since 2010, we have reduced threat of invasive grasses on 1.7 million acres, and SGI 2.0 will scale up that work even further.
We can’t meet the challenges of the new century without partners of all kinds—farmers, ranchers, family forest private companies, universities, local and tribal governments, non-profit organizations and businesses—at the table. Together, we will forge a new era of conservation partnership that more effectively confronts the growing threats to our natural resources and keeps our land resilient and our water clean for generations to come.