Biden administration approves $9M for sagebrush projects in Idaho, across the West
Funding will go toward fighting invasive grasses, habitat restoration and more
U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Jason Pyron assists youth with a radio collared sage grouse tracking exercise on University of Idaho’s Rinker Rock Creek Ranch. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)
The federal government has committed to spending nearly $1 million on six projects designed to protect and restore sagebrush habitat in Idaho.
Earlier this month, Department of Interior and Biden administration officials announced they are spending more than $9 million per year over the next five years on sagebrush habitat projects affecting Idaho and seven other states. Idaho’s share of the money comes to $991,279 for fiscal year 2022, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said.
The administration’s total five-year commitment is up to $50 million, but it has only selected projects for 2022. Idaho’s share of funding could be larger or smaller in future years.
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Sagebrush habitat, often called sagebrush steppe, covers about 175 million acres of the land in Western states, including Idaho.
“The sagebrush steppe is an incredibly important ecosystem across the West,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams told the Idaho Capital Sun in a telephone interview. “It is important for a whole number of species and important for a Western way of life, and yet at the same time, it is part of one of the ecosystems facing drought, fire, invasive species and we are all thrilled to be putting as much money and effort into its conservation as we can.”
Sagebrush habitat is home to more than 350 species of animals, including the sage grouse, pronghorn, pygmy owls, elk, mule deer, songbirds and blackfooted ferrets, Williams said. Williams called sagebrush country “an intricate and interconnected national treasure” and said some plant and animal species live nowhere else, which is why the habitat is worth protecting and conserving.
Funding comes from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, sometimes called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was passed by the U.S. Congress and then signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15, 2021.
Other projects funded through the Biden administration’s $9 million investment in sagebrush habitat are approved for Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.
Those projects include juniper removal, stream restoration, cheatgrass and invasive grass management and rangewide projects looking at climate impacts, wildland fires and other challenges facing sagebrush habitats.
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“This is a once-in-a-generation investment in a landscape that is so important to all of us, and that is really exciting,” Williams told the Sun. “If we want to conserve an ecosystem like sagebrush and all that it entails, including a way of life, this is really exciting that we get to highly invest in making that happen, and to do it collectively.”
Some of the projects will be designed to support Idaho’s cheatgrass challenge, an effort to combat cheatgrass and other invasive grasses that take over sagebrush habitat and increase the risk and size of wildfires, Williams said.
... If we can get better handle on and control cheatgrass and have native grasses instead we will be less susceptible to fire — both that habitat, sagebrush steppe, and people and communities.
– U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams
There are six projects specific to sagebrush in Idaho for 2022:
- $252,000 to support Idaho’s invasive grass strategy, the Cheatgrass Challenge.
- $240,000 more to increase the pace and scale of priority projects to combat invasive grasses through the Cheatgrass Challenge.
- $181,000 for the Upper Snake sagebrush steppe enhancement project to increase the removal of conifers, which include evergreen trees with needle shaped leaves and cones, on sagebrush habitat in southern Idaho.
- $144,000 for habitat restoration including fuel breaks, revegetation and other enhancements in sagebrush habitats affected by large wildfires, including on land owned by Idaho National Laboratory.
- $120,000 for habitat enhancement projects in mesic portions of sagebrush habitat — places where the water meets the land.
- $52,131 for the Southeast Idaho Sagebrush Steppe Enhancement in three priority landscape areas, including the Bear Lake watershed.
Several different agencies and organizations will be involved with the Idaho sagebrush projects, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation and the Idaho Department of Lands.
“This is an historic opportunity to put resources into the health and natural infrastructure of America’s sagebrush ecosystem, which serves as the lifeblood of rural communities and Tribal lands in the West,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a written statement. “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history and will meaningfully advance on-the-ground efforts to promote healthy sagebrush landscapes and communities that have been threatened by the climate crisis.”
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