CCAA part of ongoing effort 

Ranchers, agency members and others met on Steens Mountain to sign the CCAA. (Submitted photo)

Ranchers, agency members and others met on Steens Mountain to sign the CCAA. (Submitted photo)

On May 21, in rural Eastern Oregon, one of the largest land conservation agreements in the state to protect greater sage grouse was signed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Harney Soil and Water Conservation District, (HSWCD) and Eastern Oregon ranchers entered into a landmark agreement as part of an ongoing effort to provide sage grouse habitat protection. This agreement, The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), allows landowners to voluntarily agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to a species. In return, landowners received assurances against additional regulatory requirements should that species ever be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

Stacy Davies, manager of Roaring Springs Ranch, said the CCAA gives landowners an opportunity to maintain grazing and other traditional agricultural uses on their land, and protects those uses should an ESA listing occur.  

“Landowners in Eastern Oregon are highly concerned about the cultural, social and economic impacts of our rural way of life by the potential listing of greater sage grouse under the ESA,” said Carol Dunten, HSWCD chairwoman and private landowner. “The Harney County CCAA was created by a diverse group of stakeholders working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a proactive voluntary private land management plan that provides greater sage grouse habitat conservation. Based on the initial interest in enrollment, this plan will demonstrate agriculture’s commitment to protect the species.”

More than 30 landowners have already committed, covering 250,000 acres.  Oregon’s six other sage grouse counties are following Harney’s model, meaning all the state’s habitat on private land would be covered by a CCAA before the listing decisions, according to Fish and Wildlife’s Oregon State Supervisor Paul Henson, though what impact that has depends on how many people sign up.

Greater sage grouse currently occur in 11 states and two Canadian provinces, with loss and fragmentation of habitat the primary threat across its range.  In Oregon, greater sage grouse were once found in most sagebrush habitats east of the Cascades.  Greater sage grouse were listed as a candidate species in 2010. The Service is scheduled to make a listing decision in September 2015.

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