Wyoming farmers land $10.4M to protect sage grouse

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Thursday it will provide $18.2 million to three western states to conserve sage grouse habitat through the Grassland Reserve Program. Wyoming’s share will be $10.4 million.

Idaho will receive $5.5 million, and Utah will receive $2.3 million.

Greater sage-grouse (click to enlarge)

“USDA and its partners are taking a proactive approach to maintaining large and intact grazing lands that support healthy sage-grouse populations,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in prepared statement. “GRP will provide these states with another tool to conserve this at-risk species and also protect important ranch lands.”

This is on top of $17 million the state received from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program earlier this year.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead issued this statement: “I am pleased that the federal government is backing up its words of support for our sage-grouse plan. Our plan is an effort to keep sage-grouse off the endangered species list. Because private property owners often bear the costs of species protection it is good to see funds provided to offset some of the costs associated with protecting a species.”

The chair of the Sage-Grouse Implementation Team, Bob Budd, said this is a voluntary program and that it targets the right areas. “The funding specifically would go to deal with fragmentation,” Budd said. “The US Fish and Wildlife Service identified fragmentation as the number-one threat to sage-grouse habitat in the west.”

In June, Gov. Mead re-issued a Freudenthal-era executive order continuing the “core areas” plan to restrict development in prime sage grouse habitat in Wyoming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently commended Wyoming for its “core areas” sage grouse plan and said it is an integral tool in protecting sage grouse and avoiding a listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act. However, the FWS also warned that the effectiveness of the plan depends on the scientific accuracy of determining prime habitat locations and actual implementation of restrictions to protect the habitat.

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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