USDA, DOI Announce Agreement To Support Sage-Grouse Conservation

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U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar have announced an agreement to support the conservation of greater sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems in parts of 11 Western states.

‘The greater sage grouse has historically inhabited millions of acres in the West, and if we are going to conserve the species, we must work across political and administrative boundaries at a landscape scale to protect and restore its sagebrush habitat,’ says Salazar. ‘This agreement gives us a framework to prevent further habitat fragmentation and undertake other conservation efforts in partnership with states, tribes, private landowners and other stakeholders.’

The agreement ensures beneficial and consistent actions for conservation of greater-sage-grouse habitat and provides a collaborative framework for states and private landowners. For its part, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is committing to work with Natural Resources Conservation Service to use the authorities of the Endangered Species Act to provide participating landowners with reasonable assurances that their activities will be consistent with the act should the sage grouse later be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

In March, Vilsack announced a new initiative to protect sage-grouse population and habitat using two USDA conservation programs: the environmental quality incentives program and the wildlife habitat incentive program.

The USDA will provide up to $16 million this fiscal year to provide financial assistance for producers to reduce threats to the birds such as disease and invasive species and improve sage-grouse habitat. Producers can sign up through April 23 to participate in the first round of rankings for this initiative.

Also in March, the FWS announced that, based on accumulated scientific data and new peer-reviewed information and analysis, the greater sage grouse warrants the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

However, the service determined that adding the species to the federal list of threatened and endangered species at this time is precluded by the need to first address higher-priority species. As a result, the greater sage grouse will be placed on the list of candidate species and will be proposed for protection under the act as funding and priorities dictate.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior

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