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Studying impact of sage grouse conservationStudying impact of sage grouse conservation

Just how do practices to save this bird affect ranch economics? A six-state study aims to find out.

September 15, 2017

2 Min Read
2 sage grouse

Every action has a reaction, learning about sage grouse conservation

Preserving the sage grouse makes sense for the Western environment. Ranchers and allies have worked on voluntary plans to preserve this bird species, changing cultural and ranch practices along the way to meet ecological demands. And what has been the impact?

A group in the University of Wyoming Department of Ecosystem Science and Management will draw input from ranchers from Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington to look into ranch economics of the conservation program.

The research team from UW will develop cow-calf ranch enterprise budgets for use in models to estimate the economic impacts for different practices on ranches.

John Tanaka, associate director of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station, is heading up the project, and notes that partnerships between federal and state agencies and private landowners have cut threats to the greater sage grouse in 90% of the species' breeding habitat. He notes that practices have changed the way livestock are grazed on millions of acres of land in the West, especially public lands.

“Ranchers manage extensive areas of those lands and are critical to help keep the bird from being listed as threatened or endangered in the future,” says Tanaka. “The project will assess how ranchers and the communities in which they operate have been affected.”

The project is part of an initiative through the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable and is funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The University of Wyoming team and for research assistants and two research scientists will develop four cow-calf ranch enterprise budgets to document management practices, available resources and technology used. They'll draw information from nine major land resources areas in the six states.

The budgets will be made available to ranchers. The ranch types include:

• small, private land only
• small, private and public land
• large, private land only
• large, private and public land

The rancher focus groups will ensure the validity of the representative ranching operations, explains Holly Kirkpatrick, one of the research assistants.

She adds: "These enterprise budgets will be drafted as representative cow-calf ranching operations, which requires no private information from ranchers. Rather than sharing personal information about their specific operations, focus group participants will be asked to consider the typical procedures and cost estimates for cow-calf operations of a given size throughout their region.”

There can be a win-win scenario for producers and sage grouse, if habitat management recommendations can be designed to help ranchers be more productive or enhance profitability, Tanaka says. "There is a saying out there, 'Good for the bird, good for the herd,'" he says. "This project is the first range-wide effort to see if that is true from an economic perspective."

Source: University of Wyoming

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