OSU helps cattle ranchers, environmentalists save sage-grouse

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Oregon is home to 1.3 million head of cattle, valued at almost $700 million, many of which graze on sagebrush grassland. But some of that same land is also home to the greater sage-grouse. The bird occupies about half of its historical range in the United States and Canada because of degradation to its habitat. In Oregon, juniper trees, wildfires, and aggressive weeds have disturbed its ecosystem. In 2015 the sage-grouse was a candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), and received a not-warranted decision due to unprecedented conservation efforts across its range. The decision will be revisited in 2020.

In an effort to avoid an ESA listing, the OSU Extension Service has been informing landowners about a system in which they can voluntarily agree to conserve the species' out-of-balance habitat. Extension has partnered with state, federal and non-profit partners to create a Threat-based Land Management framework, which supports landowners in assessing threats to their property, and supports management decisions to address fire, juniper and weed threats. Additionally, Extension developed inventory and monitoring guidelines for landowners, whose cattle stand to benefit from the rangeland improvements.

The science has been used to develop conservation plans throughout Oregon and neighboring western states. In May 2014, federal officials and cattle-ranching representatives signed a historic agreement to protect sage-grouse habitat on certain federal and private lands. As of 2018, landowners in Oregon representing 1.4 million acres, and an additional 600,000 acres of state lands, have enrolled and actively begun habitat improvements or formally expressed interest in signing the agreement.

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