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July 20, 2019

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Feds offering millions to ranchers to help sage grouse bird

Sage grouse

AP Photo/Rawlins Daily Times, Jerret Raffety

In this Friday, May 9, 2008 file photo, male sage grouse fight for the attention of female sage grouse on a mating ground, southwest of Rawlins, Wyo. Federal wildlife officials are readying to make a recommendation about pursuing endangered species status for sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird that lives in 11 states.

Click to enlarge photo

Ranchers across the west are being offered millions of dollars in aid from the federal government to make their operations more environmentally sustainable and reduce their impact on the sage grouse the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today.

"USDA will take bold steps to ensure the enhancement and preservation of sage grouse habitat and the sustainability of working ranches and farms in the western United States," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Our targeted approach will seek out projects that offer the highest potential for boosting sage-grouse populations and enhancing habitat quality."

The Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will soon begin accepting applications for two federal programs aimed at reducing threats to the birds such as disease and invasive species and improving sage-grouse habitat. The agency will have up to $16 million at its disposal for the programs.

The Wilderness Habitat Incentive Program provides up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to create and improve fish and wildlife habitat on private and tribal land.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program provides up to 75 percent of the cost and loss of income from implementing approved conservation practices. Some historically underserved applicants (limited resource farmers/ranchers, beginning farmers/ranchers, socially disadvantaged applicants) may be eligible for payments up to 90 percent of the cost and loss of income.

These programs will help USDA to meet its conservation goals and and help state agencies responsible for managing sage grouse populations preserve and maintain key habitat.

Ranchers and land owners who enroll in the programs will receive some protection from increased regulation, should the sage grouse be listed under the Endangered Species Act in the future. Applications will be accepted through April 23.

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