Diverse group works on agreement for the benefit of ranches and sage grouse
The long-term persistence of sage grouse will depend on maintenance of intact landscapes. Ranching operations in Harney County provide large areas of continuous, high-quality habitat on both private and public lands.
Local landowners, agency personnel, and interested parties have been working on a voluntary agreement between private landowners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that will, hopefully, help ranchers maintain viable operations, while continuing to provide quality habitat for sage grouse. The agreement’s completion has become imperative, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is scheduled to make a decision to list or not list sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species in September 2015. The agreement is referred to as a CCAA, which is short for: Greater Sage Grouse Programmatic Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for Private Rangelands.
Despite the long, bureaucratic name, the document itself strives to be straightforward, and its development process has been open and inclusive. The three goals of the CCAA voluntary agreement are to:
• provide landowners assurances that current ranch and land management practices covered by the CCAA will continue in the event that sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act;
• promote conservation actions that reduce or remove threats to sage grouse through proactive ranch and land management;
• provide an ecological approach to maintain current sage grouse habitat and improve deficient habitat.
The conservation approach used in the voluntary CCAA agreement is an ecologically-based approach. It looks at the health of the entire landscape, instead of enacting measures that just aid a single species. In Harney County, the two largest threats to sage grouse habitat are wildfire and invasive annual grasses.
In 2011, a grassroots effort began by locals in forming a strategy to reduce the possible impacts that the listing of sage grouse could have on ranching, recreation, and other uses in Harney County and the consequent impacts on the county’s communities. A Steering Committee, comprised of representatives from local private landowners, Harney Soil and Water Conservation District, FWS, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Harney County Court, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon State University Extension (OSU Extension), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Department of State Lands (DSL), and Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (EOARC), and interested parties have developed this voluntary CCAA agreement.
Harney County’s document is the model CCAA effort in Oregon, with several counties, such as Lake County and Malheur County, waiting and watching this effort.
Harney Soil and Water Conservation District has taken an innovative role as the permit holder for the agreement. This allows a local organization to be the primary contact for landowners interested in enrolling in the agreement. Some of the funds to develop the CCAA document and to develop the landowner’s individual property plans have been provided by Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which receives some proceeds of the Oregon lottery.
Harney County’s CCAA document is currently in the process of undergoing its public review and federal approval. Please contact Harney Soil and Water Conservation District at 541-573-5010 if you are interested in finding out more about the agreement, or if you might possibly like to enroll your private property.