We’ve all heard the saying: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander – meaning, what’s good for one is good for another. In the sagebrush country of the West, that sentiment has rung true for another feathered friend: the greater sage-grouse. But this time we say, “what’s good for the bird is good for the herd.”
Sagebrush country is composed of large, intact and mostly treeless landscapes with sagebrush, native grasses and wildflowers. This working landscape is one of the most imperiled in the United States. At one time, it spread over 240,000 square miles, but today has shrunk to almost half.
Across the West, ranchers are stepping up to voluntarily conserve habitat for sage grouse while also benefiting sagebrush communities, local rural economies, working ranches, wildlife, soil and rangeland health.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through its Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), is there to empower ranchers to make well-balanced improvements on their ranching operations that are good for wildlife living in sagebrush country, as well as their businesses’ bottom lines.
To highlight the different ways ranchers can help, as well as the many benefits of conservation work, NRCS introduces a new “Healthy Sagebrush Communities” digital poster, available for download now. It’s also viewable as part of a multimedia story.
The poster features a globe that shows how voluntary conservation measures—like conserving mesic meadows, keeping large working ranches intact and operating through easements, using prescribed grazing, and marking fences—can improve wildlife habitat and agricultural operations across sagebrush range.
At the top of the globe, a sage grouse holds a large umbrella sheltering mule deer and songbirds on an intact working landscape. This illustration reminds us that we look at the sage grouse as an “umbrella species,” meaning conservation efforts for sage grouse also benefit 350 other species of plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals inhabiting the sagebrush sea.
The poster features some of the threats to the sagebrush ecosystem, as well as solutions for improving native rangelands. For instance, encroaching conifers and invasive grasses both degrade habitat and heighten the risk of wildfire. Studies show that sage grouse avoid nesting near conifer trees, which provide perches for predatory birds. Additionally, research shows that an open sagebrush landscape without encroaching conifers keeps water on the land longer for birds and herds.
Ranchers play a crucial role in keeping sagebrush communities healthy and are making a real difference by working with partners to address threats to range health. Since 2010, nearly 1,500 ranchers have stepped forward to conserve 5.6 million acres. This includes:
- Using prescribed grazing on 3.6 million acres to improve native rangelands and wildlife habitat;
- Fighting invasive grasses on 2.5 million acres, which helps prevent wildfire;
- Removing encroaching conifers from 555,000 acres;
- Protecting 552,000 acres of land from the risk of development and cultivation through conservation easements;
- Restoring and protecting 12,000 acres of mesic meadows, the wet habitats where sage grouse raise their chicks; and
- Marking 741 miles of fences, which prevents collisions.
To learn more about the different topics highlighted, such as prescribed grazing or conifer removal, check out our clickable version of the poster with links to resources.