Pheasants Forever (PF) joins state and federal partners to restore nearly 32,000 acres of Greater sage-grouse habitat in southern Idaho. Work on the Burley Landscape Sage-Grouse Habitat Restoration Project is set to begin this fall in Cassia County and will focus on the removal of Utah juniper, which has encroached on key sage grouse habitat.
Pheasants Forever is sponsoring the project and coordinating with numerous partners including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), East and West Cassia Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), and the South Magic Valley Sage-Grouse Local Working Group.
“In addition to our partners, this project also required support from many livestock operators who all voluntarily supported the project,” said Sam Lawry, Pheasants Forever’s Western Farm Bill Coordinator. “Partnerships with working ranches are key to improving sage-grouse habitat. Projects like this will move the needle forward to reduce habitat threats facing the species.”
At the center of the partnership is the Sage-Grouse Initiative, a program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Initiative promotes sage-grouse habitat improvement on private lands; however, a special provision in the Initiative allows NRCS to contract with grazing allotment permit holders on projects that specifically improve sage-grouse habitat on public lands. In 2012, NRCS approved over $1.8 million for conservation work associated with the Burley Landscape Sage-Grouse Habitat Restoration Project.
“We’ve worked a couple years at the local level to develop the partnership so we can get work done on a broader area – we’re covering a lot of Cassia County,” said Elliot Traher, NRCS District Conservationist in Burley, “Working with partners will help us accomplish our goals more quickly.”
Over time junipers encroach on and out-compete the sagebrush that grouse depend on for winter forage. “BLM is excited to join with PF the NRCS, IDFG and many private landowners to improve sage grouse habitat. Through this partnership we are able to leverage dollars and treat many more acres than could otherwise be treated. Sage grouse and sagebrush obligate species will really benefit from this partnership,” stated Michael Courtney, BLM Burley Field Manager, “The overall objective of the juniper removal is to simply mimic the natural disturbance process and not clear the landscape of juniper completely.”
Idaho Department of Fish and Game is providing funds from its Mule Deer Initiative to this project which allows for additional acres to be treated. “The Department is excited to become a partners with BLM, NRCS and Pheasants Forever. This project allows for the department to use habitat funds and leverage them with multiple partners to work at a scale we would be unable to work at alone. This partnership allows us to turn 1 dollar into 4 or 5 dollars worth of habitat benefit,” noted Sal Palazzolo, Idaho Department of Fish and Game Private Lands Program Manager.
According to project agreements, Pheasants Forever will oversee the work done by private contractors that will conduct the juniper removal. “Since the project partnership was conceived at the local level, it will be great to see it come together,” said Jeffrey Reese, Pheasants Forever’s Sage-Grouse Initiative Range Conservationist who works closely with NRCS, “Pheasants Forever hopes this partnership will serve as an example for other western states with sage-grouse range to develop public land restoration opportunities.”
For more information on this project, please contact Sam Lawry at (406) 552-5052 or Email Sam. For all other inquiries, please contact Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever Public Relations Specialist, at (651) 209-4973 or Email Rehan.
Logo courtesy Pheasants Forever