One county in Southeastern Oregon has announced one of the largest land conservation agreements in the state to protect greater sage grouse. The birds live in sagebrush country, but their habitat is shrinking because of people, wildfires and invasive species.
Harney County is Oregon’s prime sage grouse habitat.
Rancher Tom Sharp is helping head up a new sage grouse conservation effort.
“We are kind of in ground zero,” said Sharp.
Ranchers can opt-in to improve habitat and remove threats to sage grouse on their private rangeland. In return, they’ll be protected from other requirements, if the sage grouse is listed under the endangered species act next year.
“Landowners get it,” said Sharp. “They’re realizing that the consequences could be very serious.”
Harney County now has 1 million acres up for protection under the agreement. That’s about one-quarter of the county’s sage grouse habitat. Right now, 39 of the county’s ranchers have said they will sign up.
Seven other counties in Eastern Oregon are looking into similar agreements. Officials say that could provide protection for all sage grouse habitat on the state’s private land.
Copyright 2014 Northwest Public Radio