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Preparing a Workforce for Smarter Water Infrastructure

Helping Ranchers Save Sage-Grouse Habitat

Protecting sagebrush habitat critical to this western bird’s survival.

We’re creating incentives for rural landowners in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana to conserve landscapes that are critical for the survival of the greater sage-grouse, an iconic western bird. Learn more about our work below.

Crossing the urban-rural divide for sage-grouse.

Willamette Partnership has been an active partner in Oregon’s Sage-Grouse Conservation Partnership, or SageCon. This collaborative effort has included participants from the ranching community, energy industry, conservation groups, private landowners, universities, local government, and state and federal agencies, all working together for a more coordinated and effective approach to achieving strong sage-grouse populations, healthy sage-steppe rangelands, and vibrant rural communities.

Mitigation Impacts to Sage-Grouse Habitat

sage grouse habitat conservation

The 2016 Juntura fire complex in eastern Oregon left nowhere for sage-grouse to hide from predators. Oregon’s mitigation strategy that we designed helps finance conservation efforts like wildfire management, one of the main threats to sage-grouse habitat. Jacqueline Cupples / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Willamette Partnership helped make mitigation a big part of the state’s strategy of steering development away from the most important sage-grouse habitat and investing in tackling threats like fire and invasive species. That’s where Willamette Partnership stepped up.

Here’s what we helped develop:

  • Oregon’s approach to mitigation for sage-grouse habitat with a written manual
  • A habitat quantification tool to calculate the potential impacts of development in sage-grouse territory and the benefits provided by mitigation and other conservation investments
  • Policy concepts to help steer development away from the most important sage-grouse habitat
  • Strategies and agreements to support more coordination in sage-grouse conservation efforts

Sage-Grouse Conservation that works for Ranchers

In the coming months, landowners will be able to participate in Oregon’s sage-grouse mitigation program that we helped build. That means ranchers and other landowners in central and eastern Oregon will be able to get paid to do conservation on their property. Whether that’s restoring important wet-meadow habitats or removing juniper or invasive weeds, there are lots of ways to help out and earn money.

We’ve also facilitated and supported the State of Montana, the State of Idaho, and the Wyoming Conservation Exchange in developing innovative and effective approaches to sage-grouse mitigation.


Sage-grouse F.A.Q.s

What’s so great about the grouse?

In addition to the striking, inflatable yellow air sacs on the males’ chest and their eccentric mating dance, this chicken-sized western bird is known in large part for the controversy it has sparked. It has been the center of both an unprecedented conservation effort to keep it from requiring listing on the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and a major debate over the management of public and private lands across much of the West. Sage-grouse are also an important indicator of the overall health of their habitat, sagebrush steppe, which over 350 other species depends on.

Sage-grouse populations go up and down year-to-year but have been steadily declining over the past several decades. In 2010, their numbers warranted the species for ESA listing. Since sage-grouse live across 11 western states, an ESA listing could greatly affect ranching communities and rural economies across the West. This prompted the federal government, state governments, private industry, and environmental groups across the bird’s range to work together to come up with a conservation plan that would protect the bird without the need to be listed. In 2015, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service deemed existing federal and state management plans, regulations, and mitigation requirements were sufficient to protect the bird. They’ll be checking back in 2020.

Check out its lekking dance.

Video / Lab of Ornithology

What are the principal threats to sage-grouse in Oregon?

The sage-grouse faces different threats in different parts of its range. In Oregon, juniper encroachment, invasive annual grasses, and wildfire are the most significant threats. These large-scale drivers of habitat degradation pose a major challenge to maintaining healthy sage-grouse populations. Development — including residential development but also energy, infrastructure, mining, and roads — is a secondary but still important category of threats, and Oregon’s Sage-Grouse Action Plan outlines an approach for balancing the need for continued development in central and eastern Oregon with the need to maintain healthy landscapes and habitat. Finally, land uses such as sagebrush removal, improper grazing management, recreational uses, fences, and wild horses also threaten Oregon’s grouse.

What is sage-grouse habitat?

Sage-grouse live in sagebrush steppe, a grassland characterized by shrubs, mostly sagebrush, found primarily at landscapes (roughly 5,000-6,500 feet in elevation) throughout the American West.


(Left) Sagebrush steppe in Oregon. Photo / Bruce Taylor



Get in touch about our sage-grouse work.


Sara O’Brien, Executive Director
email |
office | 503.577.0421


Cover image by USFS.

We helped develop the first mitigation bank for fish passage in the United States.