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ID Seeks Inventive Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Projects

Sage grouse have lost 95 percent of their historic population. (Jennifer Strickland/USFWS)
Sage grouse have lost 95 percent of their historic population. (Jennifer Strickland/USFWS)
June 10, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Idahoans with ideas on how to conserve sage grouse habitat have an opportunity to submit their proposals to the state.

State agencies have $600,000 available for projects that help improve habitat for the endangered bird species. The deadline to submit proposals is June 28.

Josh Uriarte, terrestrial program manager and policy advisor with the Idaho Governor's Office of Species Conservation, says wildfire and invasive species like cheatgrass that grow after fires are the biggest threats to the birds.

He gives an example of a recently-funded project in which a landowner in the Owyhee Mountains who created wells for his livestock realized those wells could also be used to fight fires.

"If I put a variable frequency pump on my well and a fire engine is coming by and needs water because there's fire in the area because he ran out and the nearest source is however many miles or hours back in the other direction, that'd be a strategic spot, wouldn't it?" Uriarte relates.

Agencies are looking for ways to eliminate annual grasses, reduce wildfire fuels and restore wet meadows.

The sage grouse has lost 95 percent of its historic population across its 11-state range, including Idaho. Scientists call sage grouse an indicator species because their health reflects the health of the habitat at large.

Idaho's focus for restoration is collaborative projects that benefit large landscapes across state and public land and involve multiple landowners.

Uriarte says it's important that these projects help out as much of the landscape as possible.

"We like to focus in on areas where others are doing work so we can build upon what they're already doing, make a good project better by expanding it,” he states. “Not just a put a little, tiny postage stamp out there that's not around some of the other priorities folks are working on."

This year, the Trump administration rolled back parts of a 2015 plan to protect sage grouse in seven of the 11 states where most of the species resides, including Idaho.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID