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State of the Birds Report

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Aridlands

The Sage Grouse Initiative

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Sweetwater Ranch by Tracey Wolfe, NRCS

  Tejon Ranch  
  The Tejon Ranch is the largest contiguous private property in California. Five conservation
organizations guided the development of the 2008 Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Plan that resulted in a permanent conservation easement on 240,000 acres and established the Tejon Ranch Conservancy to guide conservation planning, monitoring, and stewardship under the easement. Conservation at the ranch is focused on preserving and enhancing bird populations and biodiversity while preserving traditional land uses such as grazing. Located in the Tehachapi Mountains, Tejon Ranch helps connect the Sierra Nevada with California coastal ranges and is heavily used by California Condors. In addition to protecting foraging and roosting condors, the ranch directly protects habitat for 18 species of obligate aridland birds—including Le Conte’s Thrasher, Lark and Black-throated Sparrows, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. The ranch also provides education and outreach activities for the local community.
 
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  California Condor by Jim Dodson  

The Sage Grouse Initiative is an example of a win-win solution for both birds and ranchers in 11 states in the West. The initiative's goal is to target conservation in habitats important for conserving sage-grouse. Using Farm Bill programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, the project has been successful at simultaneously improving sagebrush habitat for grouse and the sustainability and productivity of working ranches.

The Sage Grouse Initiative helps our family stay in ranching.It helps us and it helps the birds.
Bryson Masini, Sweetwater Ranch, Nevada


In March 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and its partners launched the science-based, collaborative Sage Grouse Initiative, significantly increasing NRCS financial and technical assistance to ranchers in targeted areas with abundant local sage-grouse populations. In just a few years, it has produced remarkable results. Through 2012, NRCS had enrolled more than 700 ranchers through the Sage Grouse Initiative and provided assistance with sustainable grazing systems on more than 2 million acres. The new grazing systems enhance nesting habitat for grouse and improve the native grasses, wildflowers, sagebrush, and wet meadows as food resources for livestock. "Everything is benefitting from it, the green needle, Gardner salt bush, and winter fat. And they're the most important forage we have on this range. With the NRCS guidelines we've done, I'd say it's increased five times from what it was when we started," said Montana rancher and initiative partner Dennis Mercer.

Initiative programs have also removed invasive junipers and other conifers from more than 200,000 acres, and marked more than 500 miles of fences near sage-grouse breeding habitat to reduce grouse collisions with fences. Ranchers also signed conservation easements to protect more than 240,000 acres of sagebrush habitat from dethe initiative has invested more than $145 million into conservation, as well as generated nearly $70 million in partner matching funds.

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Greater Sage-Grouse by Jeremy Roberts,
Conservation Media, for Sage Grouse Initiative
 

Science is integral to the initiative’s operations. NRCS employs a Sage Grouse Initiative science advisor and provides funding for independent scientists to measure the response of sage-grouse to conservation practices. Detailed maps have been developed to assess the risk of agricultural conversion of intact grassland and sagebrush in the eastern part of the range. Nest success and survival of young grouse is measured in response to the initiative’s grazing management systems. Extent of conifer encroachment is analyzed for cost-effective targeting of funding for tree removal. A major collaborative study is assessing the connectivity among sage-grouse populations across their range.

The program has proven extremely popular with ranchers, so popular that strong demand from ranchers wanting to participate in the effort has outstripped the capacity of NRCS staff in critical sage-grouse landscapes. In the true partnership spirit of the initiative, the Intermountain West Joint Venture and more than 30 other diverse conservation partners teamed with NRCS to generate funding to hire 24 new range conservationists and wildlife biologists, strategically located in sage-grouse core areas, who will assist ranchers directly with developing site-specific conservation plans.

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Sage-grouse release in northern California, by Michael Anderson, courtesy of Sage Grouse Initiative 

 

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