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Secretary Jewell, BLM Deputy Director Ellis Tour Innovative Sagebrush Conservation Efforts Underway in Oregon
Office of the Secretary
Juniper removal part of collaborative partnerships to improve the declining sagebrush habitat that supports ranching, recreation and wildlife
Last edited 4/26/2016
LAKEVIEW, OR – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Deputy Director Steve Ellis today visited the BLM's Lakeview District as part of their continued commitment to work with partners to restore and conserve the sagebrush landscape that is critical to the health of many species of wildlife, including the greater sage-grouse, as well as to traditional land uses and economic development.
The support of private landowners is a key element in a joint effort by the federal government and western states to develop and implement a landscape-level conservation plan for the sage-grouse before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to make a decision whether to propose the bird for Endangered Species Act protection in 2015.
“The collaborative spirit that I have witnessed on the ground makes me optimistic that we can preserve the Western way of life, protect wildlife that rely on sagebrush habitat, and promote balance between open space and energy development,” said Jewell. “Working hand-in-hand with other federal agencies, state agencies, private landowners and stakeholders, I am pleased that we are making significant strides in our sage-grouse conservation efforts in places like Oregon.”
Jewell and Ellis toured the BLM's South Warner Juniper Removal Project, one of a number of conservation actions that directly benefit sagebrush habitat. The 35,000-acre Lake County project is emblematic of collaborative efforts across the West to conserve the region's declining “Sagebrush Sea,” which supports significant economic activity such as ranching and recreation, as well as an abundance of wildlife, such as mule deer, pronghorn antelope and golden eagles.
Science shows that encroachment by juniper trees is one of the major threats to sagebrush habitat and the greater sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that will avoid meadows and other habitat with juniper trees.
Supported by a wide cross section of federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the project involves juniper cutting and thinning, along with infrastructure improvements designed to improve habitat for sage-grouse brood-rearing and foraging.
Three years ago, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and western governors formed the Sage Grouse Task Force to develop a cooperative approach to conserving imperiled sagebrush landscape in the face of threats such as fire and invasive species, expanding development and habitat fragmentation.
Jewell emphasized that the development of this approach has reached a critical time and that states in particular must work with private landowners and their federal partners to develop comprehensive strategies that can be demonstrated to reduce the threats to the bird and its habitat while supporting traditional land uses, such as ranching and energy development.
Praising Oregon's leadership, the Secretary noted the importance of the state's proposed border-to-border approach and the initiative taken by the state's ranching community in Harney County in developing an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat.
“While the Bureau of Land Management is steward for a great portion of sagebrush habitat, we know that state and private lands are absolutely critical to the sage-grouse's success,” said Jewell. “Through its ‘All lands, All threats' approach and innovative agreements on the ground, Oregon is taking important steps to protect the imperiled sagebrush landscape.”
Earlier this year, Jewell visited the Bord Gulch Ranch in Craig, Colorado to meet with private landowners and local officials on greater sage-grouse conservation efforts in the region. Exemplifying this effort is the Sage Grouse Initiative, a program funded by the NRCS, which has enrolled more than 950 ranchers in conservation programs that have protected more than 2.6 million acres of sagebrush habitat.
Since the settlement era, the greater sage-grouse has lost an estimated 56 percent of its historic habitat and is now found in 11 western states and two Canadian provinces. Males of the species are known for their flamboyant spring mating displays on traditional dancing grounds called leks. Individual birds may range across 230 square miles in the course of a year.