Editorial: Deal could help ranchers and sage grouse

Published May 24, 2014 at 12:01AM

Ranchers in the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District have a shot at certainty in the effort to preserve greater sage grouse habitat in Eastern Oregon. The district and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have agreed to enter into what’s known as a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances that covers more than a million acres of privately owned land in Harney County.

If ranchers in the district choose to sign up, they agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to the bird over the next 30 years. In exchange, should the sage grouse be listed under the Endangered Species Act, they will not be required to meet new, presumably tougher, regulatory requirements. A decision on listing is expected next year.

The agreement is the result of a collaboration among the SWCD, fish and wildlife service, Harney County Court, Oregon State University Extension, private landowners, state agencies and others. It is not Oregon’s first. That honor goes to the first CCAA created under the ESA, to protect the sharp-tailed grouse.

In Harney County, loss of habitat caused by the spread of juniper and of invasive non-native weeds and grasses are the birds’ major threat, officials say. Ranchers will be required to reduce the presence of the former and, at the least, contain the spread of the latter.

Fortunately, they may be able to get financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and other groups for the effort. The cost of removing juniper can be expensive.

That’s good. A mutually acceptable deal between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local land agencies and landowners provides landowners certainty even as it brings about changes needed to sustain threatened species.