USDA on Thursday announced that since 2010, 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage-grouse have been maintained across the West through efforts coordinated by the agency, its partners and private landowners.
Through the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA also announced it will invest in new sage-grouse conservation work over the next four years.
"Thanks to the interest from ranchers and support of our conservation partners, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is working to secure this species' future while maintaining our vibrant western economies," Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said in a statement.
In the past five years, NRCS has invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat, and has pledged to extend these efforts by approximately $200 million over four years through the conservation programs funded by the 2014 Farm Bill.
Additionally, NRCS is piloting use of its Conservation Stewardship Program to broaden the impacts of the Sage Grouse Initiative by targeting up to 275,000 acres to enhance sage-grouse habitat in 2015.
SGI is a diverse partnership led by NRCS that includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and private business. It aids ranchers with NRCS technical and financial assistance and in getting NRCS conservation practices on the ground.
Efforts range from establishing conservation easements that prevent subdivision of large and intact working ranches to improving and restoring habitat through removal of invasive trees.
"American ranchers are working with us to help sage-grouse because they know they are helping an at-risk bird while also improving the food available for their livestock," Bonnie said. "As the saying goes, 'What's good for the bird is good for the herd.'"
Sage Grouse are found in 11 states across the western United States and their habitat encompasses 186 million acres of both federal and private land. Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards said livestock grazing and wildlife habitat conservation are complimentary efforts.
"Ranchers are the original conservationists and the have been the best stewards of the land from the beginning," said Richards, a rancher from Idaho. "I'm happy to see the hard work and dedication of ranchers is not only being recognized by USDA, but also encouraged to continue. With cooperation from stakeholders on the ground, the species and its habitat will be given the best possible chance to succeed."