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Report: Ranchers making headway in preserving sage grouse habitat

Report: Ranchers making headway in preserving sage grouse habitat
Sand County Foundation report highlights farmers and ranchers using conservation tools and NRCS help to protect sage grouse habitat

As the U.S. determines if Greater sage grouse populations should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, a conservation group on Monday released its "Stories from the Range: Ranching and Sage Grouse Conservation," publication detailing ranchers' efforts to protect habitats.

Related: Sage-grouse conservation efforts working: Western Governors

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under court order to make its decision by September on whether the Greater sage grouse should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. If the bird is listed, it could affect Western states economically, says the conservation group, Sand County Foundation.

Sand County Foundation report highlights farmers and ranchers using conservation tools and NRCS help to protect sage grouse habitat (USDA photo)

Though the sage grouse lives in 11 states, some estimate its population has been reduced from millions to perhaps 500,000 now.

With a potential listing, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has already invested nearly $450 million in on-the-ground conservation since 2010 and expects to have invested more than $700 million by 2018 to protect, restore and manage sage grouse habitat with the help of area ranchers.

On May 28, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead announced the release of 98 Federal Land Resource Management Plan Revisions focused on addressing sage grouse habitat on public lands.

The plans seek to limit habitat disturbance and reduce fire risks in BLM and U.S. Forest Service sagebrush habitat areas.

Related: Sage-grouse stays off bi-state endangered species list

Given the opportunity to act voluntarily, private property owners and private enterprise have the flexibility and expertise to try new ideas and drive innovation, Sand County Foundation says.

The lessons that emerge families featured in the report, and hundreds of other private landowners working in concert with federal agencies, businesses, states and local governments, "can serve as a guide to the next generation of more effective species conservation in the U.S.," the foundation says.

"They're a species I've lived with all my life, hunted all my life, and they add color to my life," said Andy Taft, owner of Taft Ranch in Parker Mountain, Utah. "I want to see them, I want to co-exist with them. There's no question about that."

Read the full report, "Stories from the Range: Ranching and Sage Grouse Conservation," which includes stories from six rangeland farming and ranching families.

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