USDA spending another $211 million to protect sage grouse

USDA spending another $211 million to protect sage grouse
© WildEarth Guardians

Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE on Thursday unveiled the government’s plan to spend $211 million over the next four years to protect the sage grouse and its habitat.

Under what officials are calling the Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0, ranchers will receive additional financial assistance to improve conservation efforts on their land to benefit the bird and their agricultural operations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In a statement, Vilsack said these “efforts are also good for cattle, good for ranching operations, and good for America’s rural economy.”

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The government, along with private groups, have been working on conserving land to protect sage grouse since 2010. They have conserved 4.4 million acres, an area that's twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

Between 2010 and last year, the government spent $296.5 million on those projects. By the end of 2018, the USDA expects it will have spent $760 million along with private partners.

The department said it worked with nearly a dozen states on the strategy: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Some of these efforts to protect the sage grouse have been controversial because the animal's habitat largely overlaps areas rich in fossil fuel deposits. As a result, Republicans are afraid the conservation efforts could put restrictions on oil and gas drilling.

In last December’s spending package, for example, Republicans inserted a policy provision that would ban the federal government from enlisting sage grouse as an endangered species for one year. GOP lawmakers argued that making that listening could curb oil-drilling projects.

Tim Cama contributed.