Some great news for the Greater Sage-Grouse: The Natural Resources Conservation Service announced today that it will commit another $200 million over the next four years to the Sage-Grouse Initiative, a partnership between NRCS and landowners across the American West to save sage-grouse habitat on private land, which accounts for 40 percent of the bird’s total habitat. The latest cash infusion brings the program’s budget total to $750 million.
SGI has offered grants to qualifying ranchers and farmers to make their plots more sage-grouse-friendly. Recommended actions range from removing conifer trees that have encroached on the bird’s beloved sagebrush, to putting up fencing that doesn’t heavily interrupt sage-grouse’s breeding and nesting ranges. Since the program’s founding in 2010, more than 1,100 ranches in 11 states—including Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana—have participated, totaling more than 4 million acres. The goal is to hit 8 million acres by 2018.
The new funding is a multimillion-dollar attaboy, says Brian Rutledge, vice president of Audubon Rockies. Its success, he says, comes from its collaborative spirit. SGI is voluntary; the program lets landowners and conservationists work together on solutions, unlike the one-size-fits-all approach that accompanies an endangered species listing. “The program is fully adaptable to suit the land,” says Rutledge. “It asks: What does the bird need in a [specific] part of sage-grouse country?”
But the Greater Sage-Grouse isn’t out of the woods. Despite SGI’s winning streak, the sage-grouse conservationists efforts are fighting an uphill battle on the regulatory front: In late 2014, the Obama administration traded protections for the Greater Sage-Grouse to get the most recent spending bill passed.
Still, as long as SGI keeps running, there may be no need for heavier regulation. Especially with an extra $200 million in its pockets.