January 2020 Edition | Volume 74, Issue 1
Published since 1946
WAFWA and IWJV, Working Together to Conserve the Sagebrush Ecosystem
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) Sagebrush Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) has joined forces with the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) to enhance sagebrush conservation. The EOC is composed of state and federal agency leaders across the 11-state sagebrush ecosystem. The EOC was formed in 2010 to provide coordinated policy-level guidance for efforts to preclude the need to list sage grouse. In 2016, the scope of the EOC was broadened to address conservation of the overall sagebrush ecosystem. Two challenges the EOC has faced over the past decade are coordinating implementation of the policy direction set by the committee across multiple jurisdictions and integrating conservation efforts on public and private lands. Delivery of habitat conservation at the landscape scale and collaboration with private landowners are core capacities of the IWJV, so joining forces is a logical way to connect policy direction and on-the-ground implementation of sagebrush conservation.
When a series of petitions to list the greater sage-grouse as an endangered species were filed between 1999 and 2003, the 11 states and three Canadian provinces across the species’ range began working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to address threats to sagebrush habitat. These agencies recognized the need for a range-wide conservation strategy which was developed between 2004 and 2006. In 2010, the agencies formed a Sage Grouse Executive Oversight Committee to improve policy direction to guide implementation of the strategy. The committee consisted of the directors of the 11 state fish and wildlife agencies and regional directors of the FWS, BLM, and USFS. Recognizing that sage grouse were just one of many sage-dependent species, the scope of the EOC was expanded to address conservation of the overall sagebrush ecosystem in 2016.
Conservation efforts guided by the EOC have been successful in precluding the need to list sage grouse so far. With the expansion of conservation efforts to the overall ecosystem, however, San Stiver, Coordinator for the EOC, said that the EOC needed a means to improve implementation of policy direction set by the state and federal managers. To date, each state’s efforts were conducted relatively independent of others’. NRCS has provided millions of dollars for private land conservation in the sagebrush ecosystem resulting in easements, conifer removal, wet meadow restoration, and other restoration measures on over 800,000 acres of private land to date. The BLM has also invested in similar large-scale restoration and management actions addressing wildfire, invasive species, and conifer removal, and created an important voluntary initiative to work cross-boundary with IWJV via Partnering to Conserve Sagebrush Rangelands effort (see www.PartnersintheSage.com).
A number of EOC members also sit on the IWJV Board. These members’ familiarity with the IWJV’s effectiveness coordinating habitat conservation across multiple jurisdictions and in collaboration with private landowners led to the idea of formalizing a partnership to combine the policy-setting strength of the EOC with the delivery mechanisms of the IWJV.
The EOC and IWJV met January 9th at the WAFWA mid-winter meeting in Monterey, California, to begin laying the groundwork for greater collaboration. Brian Rutledge, IWJV Board member and Director of the Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative for Audubon of the Rockies, said the partnership will improve communication and coordination across the parties working to conserve sagebrush. Tony Wasley, Nevada Department of Wildlife Director and chair of the EOC, said he believes the collaboration between the EOC and IWJV will restore some of the energy for sagebrush conservation that has waned following the decision not to list sage grouse.