Apply now for Sage Grouse Initiative Funding

The latest press release on SGI from the NRCS:

Farmers and ranchers wanting to improve rangeland conditions while protecting sage-grouse populations and habitat in Idaho can apply for funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Sage-Grouse Initiative. Applications received before April 15 will be ranked for funding in fiscal year 2011.

The Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) helps pay for putting specific conservation practices in place that will improve sage-grouse habitat or reduce threats to bird survival. Many of these practices can also make rangeland conditions better for livestock. Idaho received just over $3 million for the initiative this year. Landowners in the historic range for sage-grouse are eligible to apply for the initiative.

“The Sage-grouse Initiative supports both sustainable ranching and healthy sage-grouse populations by focusing on improving rangeland conditions,” said Jeff Burwell, Idaho NRCS State Conservationist. “Some of the practices used to improve sage-grouse habitat are the same practices required to maintain healthy grazing land for livestock.”

NRCS spent over $1 million in 2010, the first year for the Sage-grouse Initiative. Producers across southern Idaho used the initiative to help fund projects that enhanced sage-grouse habitat and also improved range condition such as:

  • Seeding rangeland to increase availability of sage-grouse food plants and improve livestock forage;
  • Installing new fencing and water developments to assist grazing management;
  • Removing juniper trees in key breeding, brood-rearing and wintering sites to restore sage-grouse habitat and increase livestock forage production; and
  • Improving grazing systems to incorporate a rest period to improve sage-grouse cover during the nesting season.

Declining sage-grouse populations and habitat across the west generated interest in helping the species so that it will not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The species depends on sagebrush for cover and food and are found at elevations ranging from 4,000 to over 9,000 feet.

For more information on the initiative, contact your local NRCS office or visit our Web site

Meeting on BLM Travel Planning

On Tuesday, the 29th, the Pioneers Alliance held a meeting to discuss the upcoming BLM travel plan. Here is a summary of what members of the community learned during the presentation by the BLM:

The planning area includes all lands north of Highway 20 from Hill City on the west to the just past Fish Creek on the east and includes over 230,00 acres of BLM-managed public land and 660 miles of existing roads and trails.  The last (and only) travel plan was developed in 1981, and so five years ago, the Blaine County Commissioners requested that the BLM initiate travel planning. They gave the BLM a travel plan with their recommendations for lands between the Little Wood to the western county boundary.  Blaine County recommended that all BLM lands be designated as closed to cross-country  travel except for on existing designated roads and trails.

Except for several Seasonal Closure Areas (closed Dec 1 – April 30 annually) the entire planning area is currently designated “Open”, which means off-highway vehicles (OHVs) can travel cross-country anywhere. The planning area will be evaluated to consider and identify areas as ‘‘Open,’’ ‘‘Limited to Designated Routes,’’ or ‘‘Closed’’ to OHV use. A‘‘Limited to Designated Routes’’ designation would result in motorized and possibly mechanized vehicles being limited to designated roads and trails, while a ‘‘Closed’’ designation precludes OHV travel altogether.

There are 3 types of routes that will be designated: “Roads” (there are very few of these in the planning area; these are generally constructed and maintained by BLM), “primitive roads” (these are not constructed and usually driven-in and not maintained; most of the roads in the planning area are primitive), and “trails” (can be motorized, non-motorized, or non-mechanized (foot and horse only)).

The Plan will inform where the community can access public land and prioritize where the BLM may want to acquire easements over private land to ensure public access.

The BLM is currently planning to host four public meetings, likely in late May 2011, in Fairfield, Hailey, Carey and Twin Falls. The entire effort will take about 18 months, including scoping, developing alternatives, and both a draft EIS and the final EIS. We’ll keep you updated on when and where these meetings will take place as they are announced.