A state stronghold for threatened sage and sharp-tail grouse in eastern Washington will be maintained by a federal assistance program approved this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program will help farmers and ranchers in Douglas County voluntarily maintain 38,000 acres of habitat for one of the last stable populations of sage grouse in the nation.
“This program promotes cooperation with private landowners to maintain habitat for threatened wildlife,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) director Phil Anderson. “It will continue to protect habitat that makes the area the state’s last stronghold for sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack approved the state’s proposal for a sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program in Douglas County. SAFE is a 2-year-old sub-program of USDA’s long-running Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a voluntary, incentive-based, private-lands conservation program.
Sage grouse were designated earlier this year as a candidate species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, and both sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse are listed by Washington state as threatened species.
Douglas County is one of the few places in the country where sage grouse have not declined in the last 30 years, and their stability there is believed to be due to habitat protection under the CRP program. WDFW research shows most sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse nesting occurs in CRP habitat. WDFW works cooperatively with USDA’s Farm Services Agency to monitor the effects of CRP acreage on wildlife.
Don Larsen, WDFW’s private lands coordinator, said the newly approved program will help Douglas County landowners establish or maintain quality wildlife habitat on 38,000 acres of cropland in current grouse range, through cost-share assistance and annual rental payments for up to 15 years.
Larsen said the new funding is critically needed because CRP contracts on 65,000 acres in Douglas County have been expiring over the past two years. Vegetation cover has already been plowed up in some expired CRP fields where grouse were nesting.