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USDA expands sage grouse habitat funding

USDA expands sage grouse habitat funding
USDA offers $40 million to help ranchers and landowners improve sage grouse habitat

About $40 million will be available to help ranchers and landowners in 11 western states restore and protect sage grouse habitats, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday.

Related: Interior spares sage grouse from Endangered Species Act listing

The funding is part of USDA's four-year, $211 million Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 through the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership. The WLFW partnership uses seven focus species, including sage grouse, to steer public and private conservation investments that improve struggling landscapes and strengthen agricultural operations.

The greater sage grouse thrives in the sagebrush landscape of the West. USDA NRCS photo.

"The decisions of agricultural producers have powerful impacts on wildlife and the long-term health of their own land, and the partnerships formed through our Working Lands for Wildlife initiative have had proven success for bringing back several of America's native species," Vilsack said. "By managing ranches with sage grouse and other wildlife in mind, producers also strengthen their own operations, boost resilience and increase agricultural yields."

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service uses the Sage Grouse Initiative to build on the success of $296.5 million invested with farmers and ranchers in 11 Western States for sage grouse habitat conservation from 2010-2014.

The assistance helps ranchers enhance sagebrush habitat by making conservation improvements, like removal of invading conifers and invasive grasses that also improve grazing operations. The partnership also helps ranchers protect other critical habitat, such as wet meadows, by enrolling land into voluntary conservation easements.

Since 2010, ranchers and other private conservation partners participating in the Sage Grouse Initiative have restored and improved 4.4 million acres, benefitting not just the sage grouse, but 350 wildlife species that call the sagebrush landscape their home.

More species helped
In addition to the Sage Grouse Initiative, Vilsack also announced more than $10 million available in 2016 to support six other WLFW initiatives for focus species across the country including the New England cottontail, southwestern willow flycatcher, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, bog turtle and lesser prairie-chicken.

Funding for WLFW comes from two 2014 Farm Bill programs that accelerate conservation efforts to benefit wildlife populations by conserving entire landscapes, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

Related: USDA partnership improving sage-grouse habitat, grazing lands

The Conservation Stewardship Program provides additional opportunities for producers wanting to restore sagebrush and prairie habitat for sage grouse and prairie chicken.

By participating in WLFW, land managers also gain greater predictability under the ESA. Once enrolled, they may continue implementing their conservation actions without fear of additional regulations.

NRCS financial assistance covers part of the cost to implement conservation practices. Interested landowners are encouraged to contact their local USDA service center.

Source: USDA

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