Sage Grouse ESA determination forthcoming; populations have risen

Sage Grouse ESA determination forthcoming; populations have risen

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service says Sage Grouse populations are on the rise through rancher involvement

Sage Grouse populations are on the rise, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation says, thanks in part to rancher involvement.

Related: Report: Rancher participation key in Sage Grouse Initiative projects

The Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Sage Grouse in 2010 as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. FWS will determine the status of the Sage Grouse later this year, based on conservation actions implemented to remove threats to the bird across the range.

According to the USDA, a recent survey points towards an optimistic outlook for sage grouse.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service says Sage Grouse populations are on the rise through rancher involvement (NRCS photo)

NRCS has been working for the past five years through the Sage Grouse Initiative to join with 1,100 ranchers who have conserved 6,000 square miles of habitat and NRCS also has invested $424 million in target areas to benefit at-risk Sage Grouse populations.

So far, the initiative has restored 400,000 acres through removal of encroaching conifers, and nearly 500,000 acres by establishing conservation easements, NRCS said.

"Through collaboration, our goal is to help ensure a bright future for sage grouse and the 350 other wildlife species that call this range their home, while ensuring the nation's working lands remain productive," said Tim Griffiths, who helps coordinate NRCS' Sage Grouse efforts.

"We've made great progress since 2010 and will maintain our focus on this critically important ecosystem."

Sage grouse populations are growing
According to Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies survey results, the population of the greater sage-grouse has grown by nearly two-thirds since 2013.

The report said that Western state biologists observed more active breeding grounds, known as leks, over the past two years, as well as a major increase in the number of male grouse per lek. In 2006, biologists observed an average of more than 33 birds per lek, higher than at any time in decades. But that number fell each year until 2013, when there were fewer than 17 birds per lek. It rose to 18 in 2014 and 25 this spring.

Related: Sage-grouse conservation efforts working: Western Governors

"Our lek count data shows an increase in male sage grouse from 49,397 in 2013 to 57,399 in 2014 and 80,284 males in 2015," said San Stiver, WAFWA's sage grouse coordinator. "I wouldn't suggest this is a trend at this point, as it is not enough years for a trend, but it is clearly good news."

Earlier this year, the FWS determined a subpopulation of sage grouse in Nevada and California, called the Bi-State sage-grouse, did not require listing under the ESA.

 This decision shows the success of NRCS supported voluntary conservation efforts on private lands that benefit wildlife while supporting working lands, the agency said.

Source: USDA blog

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