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Conservation Efforts in Montana Could Aid Utah's Struggle To Protect Sage Grouse

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"You have over 1,100 producers across five states, coming forward voluntarily over the past five years, and putting in place sustainable ranching practices on over 4.4 million acres of land," said Jason Weller, of the NRCS.

Efforts under way in Montana to restore and protect habitat for sage grouse, a bird that faces a possible endangered species listing, could benefit Utah and other western states.

Jason Weller, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, met with state officials and private landowners in Montana on Monday to announce a new agreement involving his agency, the state and other entities. Weller said it's aimed at expanding on already extensive conservation efforts on private lands.

"This is a huge success story, unprecedented in my view. You have over 1,100 producers across five states, coming forward voluntarily over the past five years, and putting in place sustainable ranching practices on over 4.4 million acres of land, equivalent in size of two Yellowstone national parks," Weller said.

Weller's agency has also just released a new publication, called "Success on the Range." It offers ranchers' views on the ongoing public and private conservation efforts, and explains the focus on expanding those efforts in states with sage grouse habitat.

Jay Tanner is a member of Partners for Conservation, and ranches about a million acres of public and private land near Grouse Creek, UT. He was also among the private landowners at the Montana meeting. Tanner said he has spent years improving sage grouse habitat on his land through grazing management plans and weed control, and adds that it also helps the long-term health and sustainability of his ranch.

"This habitat work that we're doing is improving areas of our ranch. Over the years, junipers have encroached and had restricted the grass and forbs that had been growing in the area. It was to the detriment of both domestic livestock and wildlife," Tanner said.

Tanner said removing the invasive juniper benefits sage grouse habitat and also reduces the massive amount of ground water the trees are known to consume.