Oregon Sage Grouse - When Ranchers Are the Conservationists

Although ranchers naturally hope to protect operations on their private lands, they also have a vested interest in encouraging grouse habitat. As it turns out, managing range lands for sage-grouse also benefits cattle. For example grazing cows consume much of the vegetation that provides fodder for wildfires. As an added bonus grouse habitat also benefits other wildlife species. That includes mule deer, elk, pygmy rabbits, and golden eagles, just to name a few.

Read full article here (by Natalie Krebs in Outdoor Life)
 "...  Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances alongside the Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District. This CCAA will operate within the borders of Oregon’s largest geographic county to cover more than one million acres of private rangelands.

CCAs and CCAAs are nothing new, although Oregon is the third state to implement them for sage-grouse habitat. Under a CCAA, landowners voluntarily agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to a species. In return the federal government guarantees that landowners will not be subject to additional regulations should that species become listed under the ESA...

Sage-grouse rely on open lands populated by sagebrush, bunch grasses, and leafy plants. Threats to that environment include wildfire, invasive grasses, juniper trees, fences, habitat fragmentation, and human development. Eastern Oregon is home to some of the best remaining grouse habitat in the Great Basin. Those same arid sagebrush plains also support vast ranching operations, which play a vital role in Oregon’s economy. For instance, cattle and calves were ranked as Oregon’s third most valuable commodity in 2011 with an estimated value of $609 million.

Good for Birds and Herds
Although ranchers naturally hope to protect operations on their private lands, they also have a vested interest in encouraging grouse habitat. As Sharp likes to say, “What’s good for the bird is also good for the herd.” As it turns out, managing range lands for sage-grouse also benefits cattle. For example grazing cows consume much of the vegetation that provides fodder for wildfires. As an added bonus grouse habitat also benefits other wildlife species. That includes mule deer, elk, pygmy rabbits, and golden eagles, just to name a few.

Roaring Springs Ranch in Frenchglen, Ore. began managing for sage grouse in 1994 and has since invested nearly $2 million in grouse habitat restoration efforts–all without relying on any government funding. That includes removing juniper trees, preventing wildfires, and controlling invasive vegetation. Conscious habitat management across two decades has worked wonders for the cattle operation as livestock numbers have increased alongside the ranch’s economic health.

“As a result we’ve got a strong sage grouse population,” ranch manger Stacy Davies said. “The Candidate Conservation Agreements give us an opportunity to continue what we’ve been doing without the consultation that’s necessary if the species is listed.”

This outlook seems to be the general attitude encountered by project leader and USFWS state supervisor Paul Henson. During the past two years Henson and his team have been meeting with landowners and other community members in the basement of the Harney County courthouse, building trust and hammering out a compromise amenable to all parties invested in sage-grouse habitat.

“People will sort of take their chances with the devil they know versus the devil they don’t,” Henson said. “I think these landowners are working with us because they at least know what they’re going to get from us right now in this agreement and what it means if the species is listed in the future.”..."