Statistics associated with the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) are quite impressive. Since 2010, more than 1,100 ranchers have teamed up with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the partnership led by the agency to conserve habitat on 4.4 million acres, an area of working lands twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. The partnership has invested more than $424 million, of which more than 75 percent are invested in the highest priority areas.
NRCS helps restore habitat for sage grouse, an iconic, at-risk bird of the American West, by restoring and protecting key landscapes through removal of encroaching conifers, up by 14-fold, and through the establishment of conservation easements, up by 18-fold. While these numbers are indeed important, they do not share the real story. It’s the people and partnerships behind the numbers that truly matter as they are the ones that actually put the conservation on the ground. These conservation heroes and their tremendous accomplishments are highlighted in the brand new publication called “Success on the Range,” unveiled today by SGI.
The report puts the power of voluntary conservation on private lands on full display. Each story made possible by rallying around a shared vision of achieving world class wildlife through sustainable ranching. All partners — states, conservation districts, wildlife and agricultural groups, land trusts and federal partners – working hand in hand with western ranchers to accelerate implementation of conservation actions.
Their stories provide true testament to not only what’s possible when we all pull in the same direction, but what the likely outcome will be. SGI perfectly illustrates how wildlife and agriculture can not only coexist, but thrive in harmony.
While today we celebrate the unprecedented success achieved over the past five years, we also recognize that our work is not yet complete. Lessons learned are being translated into new opportunities and actions as we continue to scale up the effort. New partnerships, like the one that was forged today in Montana, give hope that even larger successes lie on the horizon.
The memorandum of understanding signed today in Helena, Montana will formally link the state, NRCS and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana, Inc. as joint partners to conserve privately owned working rangelands using win-win solutions showcased in SGI. This collaboration is especially important in Montana, where 70 percent of all sage grouse habitat occurs on privately owned grazing lands.