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DAVIS, Calif., Dec. 2, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White today announced increased funding to protect sage grouse populations and habitat in California and 10 other western states.
"USDA will continue to provide significant resources to enhance and preserve sage grouse habitat and sustain working ranches and farms in the western United States," White said. "The Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) supports both sustainable ranching and healthy sage grouse populations by focusing on improving rangeland conditions."
This fiscal year NRCS will provide up to $30 million in the 11 states where sage grouse are found – California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Producers in these states can apply for financial assistance to improve sage grouse habitat or to reduce threats, such as habitat fragmentation, to the birds.
"This is a significant program that meets a dual purpose; conservation of an iconic species and improved management of grazing lands," said Ed Burton, NRCS State Conservationist for California. "We are finding that practices implemented to improve sage grouse habitat are the same practices required to maintain healthy grazing land for livestock."
California will be provided $6.6 million for this special sage grouse initiative. Signups are continuous; an application cut-off date for this fiscal year has not yet been determined. Interested agricultural producers in Inyo, Lassen, Modoc and Mono counties are encouraged to contact their local NRCS office.
NRCS launched SGI in 2010 making $18.5 million in financial assistance available to over 225 program participants in sage grouse population areas. In California, NRCS obligated over $3.2 million and enrolled over 119,000 acres to work with ranchers on a variety of practices that improve sage grouse habitat, such as brush management, grazing management, and range and riparian area plantings. This work was achieved through cooperation with local landowners, and state and federal agencies.
Overall, significant progress toward sage grouse conservation was made in 2010 including:
- Producers marked or removed 180 miles of wire fencing near leks where sage grouse carry out display and courtship behavior. This prevented between 800-1,000 sage grouse collisions, which is equal to all male sage grouse counted on leks annually in California, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington in the U.S., and Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.
- Producers managed 640,000 acres of grazing lands to improve sage grouse hiding cover during nesting season. This additional grass cover is expected to increase sage grouse populations between 8–10 percent.
- Producers removed 40,000 acres of encroaching conifer from otherwise suitable sage grouse habitat in key breeding, brood-rearing and wintering sites.
Additionally, NRCS worked successfully with the Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service to provide certainty to landowners who enroll in NRCS programs to benefit sage grouse. This action protects landowners from increased regulation should the bird be listed under the Endangered Species Act in the future.
Sage grouse is a ground-dwelling bird native to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem of the American West. The birds, found at elevations ranging from 4,000 to more than 9,000 feet, depend on sagebrush for cover and food. For several decades, sage grouse populations and habitat have been declining.
Interested agricultural producers can find contact information for their local NRCS office by visiting www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/.
SOURCE USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service