Voluntary, collaborative conservation efforts are helping this iconic rangeland bird, despite federal policy rollbacks
Once seen in great numbers across the West, the greater sage-grouse has declined in number over the past century. Booming oil, gas and other development has encroached on this habitat, putting the bird on a collision course with two large economic drivers: agriculture and energy.
Fortunately, an unprecedented public-private partnership among ranchers, energy developers, conservationists, and state and federal policymakers led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine that the greater sage-grouse was "not warranted” for listing under the endangered species list in September 2015.
Since then, though, the Bureau of Land Management has initiated a number of rollbacks to federal protections for the imperiled bird – an attempt to unravel the collaborative, decades-forged plan to keep the bird off the endangered species list.
Despite these rollbacks, several states and stakeholder groups have continued to follow through on their conservation commitments through a voluntary, market-based Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Exchange.
The Colorado Habitat Exchange gives ranchers a new return on investment for stewarding wildlife and land resources.
Terry R. Fankhauser Executive Vice President, Colorado Cattlemen's Association
Landowners as part of the solution
In addition to conservation on public lands, solutions are also needed for the millions of acres of privately held working lands that are not only good for agricultural activities like cattle ranching, but also for conservation activities that have the potential to grow prime sage-grouse habitat. By participating in the Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Exchange, farmers, ranchers and other landowners can voluntarily create, maintain and improve vital bird habitat.
Scientific experts using the best available science will assign a value to the benefits derived from these activities:
- Controlling the expansion of pinyon-juniper trees into sagebrush habitats.
- Permanently protecting the best sagebrush habitats from development.
- Restoring sagebrush on degraded lands.
- Managing livestock grazing to improve habitat.
- Controlling the expansion of invasive plants that degrade habitat.
Landowners can then sell in the form of a credit to industry seeking to offset the impact of their projects on protected wildlife and habitat. Landowners benefit from a new revenue stream and potential regulatory assurances. Industry benefits by getting a predictable value for their investments in credits that can be purchased to offset the impacts of development, and a standard set of rules to ensure that projects move forward.
A collaborative partnership
The Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Exchange is a collaboration among Environmental Defense Fund and various conservation organizations, energy companies, state agriculture organizations and wildlife agencies. Exchanges have been established in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada, and Montana has followed a similar approach.
We have a solution here. It’s working.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon on Wyoming’s sage-grouse exchange
The Wyoming Conservation Exchange grew out of landowner interest that evolved into a multi-year collaborative process focusing initially on the Upper Green River Basin, where private lands provide many acres of high quality habitat. Partners include the Sublette County Conservation District, the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund.
A Colorado Habitat Exchange was also developed to grow quality habitat across portions of Colorado's 31.3 million acres of private working lands. Partners include Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Land Board, Partners for Western Conservation, Environmental Defense Fund, The Wilderness Society and Conversation Colorado.
The State of Nevada committed $2 million to kick start projects for greater sage-grouse conservation through the Nevada Conservation Credit System - Nevada's version of a habitat exchange. Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc. was the first company to participate in the program, buying credits to offset the environmental impacts of its Bald Mountain gold mine in northeast Nevada. The credit projects will include a variety of conservation activities, such as grazing management and fencing maintenance, which will take place over the next 30 years.
The Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program utilizes a Habitat Quantification Tool and mitigation system policy guidance to implement the state’s Greater Sage-Grouse Stewardship Act.