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Federal, state partners pledge support for sage-grouse and sagebrush ecosystem



sagegrouse180-7006447-7207872The Sage-grouse Executive Oversight Committee (EOC), made up of representatives from the  Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture and Western States’ fish and wildlife agencies, met last week at the 75th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Milwaukee, Wis., to discuss a proposed federal initiative to fund conservation for the Greater sage-grouse and pledged to support actions on the ground to benefit the bird, which was recently listed as a candidate species across the 11 Western states.

The EOC is exploring ways to coordinate and fund the range-wide Greater sage-grouse Comprehensive Conservation Strategy, which was initially developed through grassroots local planning efforts, statewide efforts, and consolidated into a national level approach to develop the infrastructure, leadership and funding to support conservation efforts to benefit Greater sage-grouse.

Greater sage-grouse currently occupy 258,000 square miles of the sagebrush ecosystem; the species is found in eastern California, Western Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Greater sage-grouse is up to 30 inches long, and weighs from two to seven pounds, with a long, pointed tail with feathered legs. Females are a mottled brown, black, and white. Males are larger with a white ruff around their neck and bright yellow air sacks on their breasts that are inflated to attract females to strutting grounds during the birds’ elaborate courtship display. Sage-grouse are dependent on sagebrush for cover and food.  Sagebrush ecosystems are also important for more than 350 other wildlife species that use these habitats for part or all of their life requisite needs.

As the sagebrush area has shrunk, the greater sage-grouse has lost 44% of its habitat. Sagebrush habitats have been lost to agriculture, urban development, energy production, invasive weeds, pinion-juniper tree encroachment and wildfire. The human footprint across the core area where Greater sage-grouse live is extensive, and becoming larger as the country strives for energy independence, agriculture, development and other, often competing uses.

“The enormity of the problem the Greater sage-grouse faces cannot be overstated, and we are indeed challenged to address all the issues. This species needs extensive areas of connected habitats for the various life stages of breeding, nesting, raising young, and wintering. They have high fidelity to seasonal habitats,” said Ken Mayer, EOC committee chair, and Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “We must address this resource problem in a comprehensive, integrated way with all of our partners working together if we are to make any headway to protect this species and the sagebrush ecosystem upon which it depends.”

The interagency EOC was formed in 2008 with the signing of a multi-agency Memorandum of Understanding. The goals for the EOC are to prioritize conservation actions, provide guidance to their agencies regarding greater sage-grouse conservation, and provide leadership, funding and resources to accomplish cost effective conservation actions.

“We have the technical expertise, we have the research capability, and all of the significant players are at the table,” said Mayer.  “This is a daunting task, but in partnership, we have the capacity to complete these necessary actions and safeguard the bird for generations to enjoy.”

The committee includes representatives of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency.

“The Nevada Department of Wildlife will continue to seek funding and advocate for healthy sagebrush ecosystems, while at the same time working with local, federal and private partners to develop and implement projects to reduce threats and enhance habitat for the species,” said Mayer.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit www.ndow.org.

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