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Funding is available for sage grouse conservation projects

Tom Koerner
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Wyoming Game & Fish Commission is allocating $548,000 forsage grouse conservation projects to eight working groups addressing the threats against the iconic western bird. Each working group is made of state and federal agency representatives and other stakeholders, including the agriculture, industry, and tourism sectors. The groups review proposals submitted by groups to provide funding for their projects.

“They each get a portion of it and they evaluate local projects and decide which would be the most beneficial for sage grouse which conform the best to thesage grouse executive order,” said Nyssa Whitford, sage grouse/sagebrush biologist with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. “They evaluate them in terms of project readiness, likelihood of success, if they have matching fund[s], if there's multiple species benefits, and then they award the project's money from their portion of that $548,000 to further sage grouse conservation on the ground.”

The commission allocates this funding as part of its budget.Other conservation monies are provided through federal dollars, NGOs, and other state agencies, though the conservation projects are specifically funded via the Commission’s budget.

Projects can have a variety of objectives though most are centered around habitat improvement.

“Sage grouse mostly eat sagebrush in the winter, it's pretty much the only thing that's out there,” Whitford said. “They nest underneath the sagebrush plants. It is a high percentage of their diet in the spring they will eat forbs and insects as well, they are a sagebrush obligate species, so they need the plant to survive.”

Sage grouse populationshave experienced significant decline in previous decades. This includes an 80 percent range wide decline since 1965 and a 40 percent decline over the last 20 years. However, populations do vary regionally. The bird species resides in several western and Mountain West states on over150 million acres of sagebrush-steppe lands. InWyoming,there has been a decline, but there’s also beenpositive trends for the iconic birds as thepopulations are stabilizing. The grants are set to aid selected projects that address any one of these challenges the bird faces.

“Different development types on the landscape that can run anything from residential development to energy development, to other industrial uses on the landscape [as threats to sage grouse habitat],” she said. “The other is definitely drought, where definitely West-wide drought that has a lot of implications. Conifer encroachment is a big deal. Also, fences, depending on how they're oriented, can be pretty detrimental to sage grouse. Those are definitely some of the bigger ones.”

Sage grouse were most recently petitioned to be listed on the Endangered Species List in 2015, though they were not found to meet requirements to be listed.

“That is in part because the states that make up the range of the sage grouse have really come together, they've implemented plans such as the Wyoming Executive Order to come bolster the habitat for the bird, and then also, try and slow or change the course of the population declines,” Whitford said. “The federal government kind of looked at what the states had in place and thought that those protections would be enough to keep the bird off the endangered species list.”

Groups that are interested in submitting proposals can do so through Jan. 31. The application for project proposals can be foundhere. Those that are selected for funding can expect to begin their conservation efforts in July.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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