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01/28/2013

Making Sage Grouse Part of Our Wildlife Restoration Success Stories

Greater_SageGrouse(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The United States is home to an abundance of wildlife.  However, this was not necessarily our destiny.  Market hunting for wildlife in the 1800s to feed logging and mining camps as well as city dwellers nearly drove many now common species to extinction.  It was very possible that we could be living in a country without Whitetail deer, without mallard ducks, without wild turkeys. But we do, and we are lucky to benefit from what is without a doubt, one of the greatest wildlife restoration success stories in the world.

The trends toward extinction were reversed with many tools, including the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Fund (WSFR). Dating back to 1937, the fund is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and utilizes money raised through an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, boating fuel and other outdoor equipment to fund work to increase our scientific understanding of fish and wildlife and improve the habitat on which many species depend.

To date, over $45 billion has been raised, funding fish and wildlife conservation efforts in all 50 states. States agencies receive funds through a formula based on habitat and the number of paid hunting and fishing license holders, and then determine which conservation projects will be funded.

Among the species benefitting from WSFR is Greater sage grouse.  A candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, sage grouse have declined by over 90% across their historic western range.  Due to their habitat needs, sage grouse are a good indicator of the sustainability of development and human activity, so their decline has become a cause of much concern across the West.

In Nevada, the state Division of Wildlife receives between $400,000 and $600,000 each year from WSFR, money that supports research, monitoring and habitat improvement projects for sage grouse.  Through 11 fire restoration projects, 14 brood rearing or nesting habitat improvements and 2 habitat protection projects, the Nevada Division of Wildlife has improved or secured 71,348 acres of habitat for sage grouse in that state with the help of WSFR funds.

In Idaho, WSFR money is supporting Idaho Fish and Game’s work with partners to restore nearly 32,000 acres of sage grouse habitat in the south of the state by removing invasive Utah junipers that are degrading grouse habitat.

Multiply these kinds of projects across the 11 Western States where sage grouse are found and multiply that again by additional conservation efforts by federal agencies, NGO’s and private landowners and there is a real chance that we might be able to save the sage grouse without listing it under the Endangered Species Act.  When we do, it will add another chapter to one of the greatest wildlife restoration stories in the world.

--Catherine Semcer, Senior Washington, D.C. Representative

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