Montana’s Hart Ranch is 3,500 acres of hilly grasslands not far from the Canadian border. It lies squarely in Greater sage-grouse country, along the bird’s longest-known travel corridor: a 150-mile route between Saskatchewan and the Missouri River.
Thanks to a remarkable public-private partnership, this section of the grouse’s habitat will remain intact for generations to come. Nearly 2,500 acres of Hart Ranch are now protected from development under a conservation easement brokered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The arrangement, which still permits the grazing of livestock, is a key component of a 32,249-acre network of easements that protect habitat along the grouse’s travel route.
Hart Ranch reflects a monumental effort to conserve sagebrush habitat and the rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. The easements are part of NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative—a case study in how to reach out and work effectively with private landowners. Western ranchers, with the help of NRCS, state wildlife agencies, and groups such as The Conservation Fund, are central to this important conservation effort.
Since 2010, more than 1,100 ranchers have enrolled in SGI programs, conserving more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat across 11 states. The venture is poised to have an even greater impact in coming years: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently unveiled a plan to invest an additional $211 million in SGI’s conservation efforts through 2018.