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Farmers and Ranchers in Eastern Oregon sign on as Partners to Conserve the Sage-grouse, a Candidate Species
Photo Credit: Brent Lawrence/USFWS
"What's good for the bird is good for the herd," says Tom Sharp, a Harney County rancher referring to the fact that, grazing cattle help control vegetation that, if left unchecked, lead to intense fires that destroy sage brush habitat that is vital for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). This in turn provides cattle with high-quality grazing land.
A leader in bringing stakeholders together, Sharp helped develop an agreement to conserve the greater sage-grouse – a condidate for Endangered Species Act protection – on ragelands in eastern Oregon.
According to the agreement between the Harney County Soil and Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, participating landowners agree to reduce threats to the sage-grouse by removing invasive cheatgrass and encroaching juniper trees, protecting sage-grouse nesting grounds, placing tags on fences as alerts to prevent in-flight collisions, and installing escape ramps for the birds in stock tanks.
Photo Credit: Brent Lawrence/USFWS
In exchange for conserving the species and ideally preventing the need to list it as endangered or threatened, landowners receive regulatory assurances, meaning they will not be required to undertake any further measures, should the sage-grouse be listed.
Under an umbrella agreement, the Harney County Soil and Conservation Service will work with landowners to design individual management plans that address threats to sage-grouse while continuing traditional ranching or farming activities. Landowners are already eager to enroll 250,000 acres, and six other counties are initiating similar agreements.
In 2010, listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act was found to be warranted but precluded by higher priority listing actions. The species then became a candidate for listing, promoting awareness of the need for conservation. Now found in 11 western States and two Canadian provinces, the sage-grouse has declined primarily because of the loss of habitat. Today, about 40 percent fewer sage-grouse occupy about 56 percent of the historic habitat.
The greater sage-grouse uses sage-brush habitat year-round. Sage brush provides shelter and is the prime food source in winter when insects and other plants are not available. In spring, the birds gather on leks – large, open flats surrounded by sagebrush – to breed.
Three years in the making, the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAAs) will be valid for 30 years. Wyoming has a similar agreement in place, and other states are developing CCAAs to benefit the bird.
Ann Haas, a program specialist of the Ecological Services Program in the Service's headquarter's office in Arlington, VA, can be reached at email@example.com or 703-358-2360.
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