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.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have determined that listing the greater sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List was "not warranted," but that isn't stopping landowners in key states from stepping up to help the bird, ensuring that it stays off the list.
Multi-stakeholder efforts are now underway in several states across the bird's 11-state range (California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) to grow habitat and put the species on a positive trajectory. Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Exchanges are currently being developed in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada.
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.
Conservation activities include:
- 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.
Scientific experts using the best available science will assign a value to the benefits derived from these activities, which 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. The exchange is making substantial headway in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada, where partners have developed specific exchanges that work in those states.
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 is also being 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 Oil and Gas Association, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Land Board, Partners for Western Conservation, Environmental Defense Fund and Southwestern Energy.
The State of Nevada has already committed $1 million to kick start projects for greater sage-grouse conservation through the Nevada Conservation Credit System - Nevada's version of a habitat exchange. Another $1 million will become available in the fall of 2016.