History

Sage-grouse are restricted to the sagebrush rangelands of western North America. Sage-grouse once inhabited 15 states and 3 Canadian provinces. Currently, populations exist in only 11 states and 2 provinces. There are two species of sage-grouse. All birds located north and west of the Colorado River are known as the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). A newly described species, the Gunnison sage-grouse, (Centrocercus  minimus) is found only south and east of the Colorado River in Utah and Colorado. For more in-depth information on the natural history of sage-grouse, see the sage-grouse leaflet created through NRCS.

Continued population declines prompted several environmental organizations to petition the USFWS to list greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. To address these declines stakeholders organized working groups to increase local involvement in the development of conservation plans and agreements. It is anticipated that implementation of these conservation plans and agreements will assist state and local governments and private landowners in conserving these species and their habitats while also achieving local, social, and economic objectives.

Approximately 30% of the sagebrush-steppe lands in the western United States are privately owned. The greatest percent of privately owned sagebrush lands occurs in Montana, Colorado, Washington, and South Dakota. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources estimates that in Utah over 50% of the remaining sage-grouse populations in the state occur on private land. To address these declines concerned stakeholders in the affected states have formed local working groups or coalitions to increase local ownership and involvement in the development of community based conservation plans and agreements. It is anticipated that implementation of these conservation plans and agreements will assist state and local governments and private landowners in conserving these species and their habitats while achieving local, social, and economic objectives.

The scientific literature clearly indicates that sage-grouse are dependent upon large expanses of sagebrush. However, more information is needed regarding the appropriate sagebrush-steppe patch sizes that are needed to provide for seasonal habitat requirements (Connelly et al. 2004). In 2001, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in a memorandum of understanding among its members regarding sage-grouse conservation recognized a need to conduct experiments of sufficient scale that demonstrate how habitats can be managed to stabilize and enhance sage-grouse distribution and abundance.

The NRCS and SCDs have the legal mandate to assist farmers and ranchers in identifying and implementing management actions on their property that sustain or enhance economic viability, conserve natural resources (e.g., soil and water), and contribute to species conservation. To comply with this mandate, NRCS and SCD field staff will need better information regarding the effects of specific conservation practices and technologies on at-risk species. This information may be obtained best though scientific evaluations of conservation practices as they are implemented on private land. Increased access to this information by field personnel and landowners during the conservation planning process will enable landowners to realize their management goals and contribute to sage-grouse conservation.

Completion of this will result in the development of the Project Library that will provide NRCS, SCD, state wildlife agency biologists, farmers, and ranchers with visual information and real-time data regarding the effects of integrating 2002 Farm Bill conservation practices on wildlife, agricultural productivity, and natural resource conservation (e.g., soil and water). This information will allow them optimize the benefits of conservation planning.