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USDA, Partners Unveil Sage Grouse Management Map

The USDA’s NRCS is offering people across the West a handy new tool to help them understand and visualize sage grouse territory.

Partnering with the University of Montana and other entities, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has created a new map through the Google Earth Engine, as part of their ongoing Sage Grouse Initiative.

The map (which you can see here) has multiple functions. Viewers can toggle layers on the map, showing sage grouse management zones and “priority areas for conservation.” It also includes indices of ecosystem resilience (ranging from low to medium to high) and tree canopy cover data.

All told, the sage grouse map covers 100 million acres and eight states.

“Bringing this data together in an easy-to-use online resource helps federal, state and private partners better target our work to restore and protect this vast landscape – supporting wildlife, rural economies, and the Western way of life,” said NRCS Chief Jason Weller in a press release. “This is another great example of how using scientific data and technology makes partnerships like the Sage Grouse Initiative more effective.”

Terrell Erickson, director of the NRCS’ Ecological Sciences Division, debuted the map at the Sagebrush Conference in Salt Lake City, being held until February 26 at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center. From the USDA press release:

“This is just the first step,” said Erickson. “SGI partners are in the process of adding more data layers of value to the application based on input from our partners.”

Brady Allred, a rangeland specialist with University of Montana, developed the tool for SGI using Google Earth Engine, a platform for scientific analysis and visualization of geospatial datasets, both for public benefit and for business and government users. SGI will continue to build on the tool over time. The eight states with territory covered by the first two data sets include California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Public and private land managers can now use the free SGI map tool in planning where and how best to target available resources to achieve the biggest gains in the battle against invasive species. “By focusing on such a large area we are able to provide the big picture – a better view of what’s occurring across boundaries, so each effort supports the greater goal and helps reduce future threats,” Allred said.

The Tree Canopy Cover layer, developed by professor Michael Falkowski of Colorado State University, shows where conifers are degrading critical sagebrush-steppe across the range. NRCS and partners use these data to target the removal of invading conifers when the trees are young and more easily eradicated. Another map layer provides an index of ecosystem resilience and resistance to cheatgrass based on underlying soil temperature and moisture.

Each data layer creates a visual representation of available research covering one of the threats targeted by Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 investment strategy, a four-year $211 million effort to help restore and protect sagebrush habitats in 11 western states. The strategy guides conservation efforts through 2018.

We’ve followed the travails of the sage grouse over the past few years—especially over the past few months, when the bird was denied Endangered Species designation, only to receive special protections nonetheless. Indeed, this new map represents yet another wrinkle in the ongoing saga of sage grouse management across the West.

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