Terry A. Messmer
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Community-Based Conservation and Sagebrush Steppe Restoration: Local Working Groups
Terry A. Messmer, Todd Black, Sarah Lupis, and S. Nicole Frey, Utah State University, Logan, UT, and Dean L. Mitchell, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City, UT.
Sage-grouse (Centrocercus spp.) populations have declined throughout much of the western United States. In Utah, sage-grouse occupy only 50% of their original habitat and are one-half as abundant as they were prior to 1850. These declines parallel increased loss and fragmentation of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) habitats. The mosaic of land ownership in Utah complicates sage-grouse conservation efforts. A given sage-grouse population in Utah may use habitats administered by several federal, tribal, state agencies, and private landowners. Privately-owned lands currently constitute over 40% of habitat occupied by sage-grouse in Utah.
Utah’s Sage-grouse Strategic Management Plan, approved in 2002 by the Utah Wildlife Board, provided a framework for establishing 13 local working groups (LWGs). Utah State University Extension (USUEXT) entered into a long term agreement with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) to develop a program to enhance local community involvement in sensitive species conservation. Currently, specialists from Utah’s Community-Based Conservation Program (http://utahcbcp.org/who) facilitate efforts of LWGs to develop area-specific management programs to maintain, improve and restore local sage-grouse populations and their habitat. The LWGs consist of private landowners, local elected officials, federal land permittees and lessees, oil and gas industry, state and federal wildlife and land management agency personnel, and representatives from non-governmental organizations. As of August 2007, 11 LWGs have completed plans that identify strategies to improve overall rangeland habitat and watershed conditions, increase sage-grouse populations, and sustain local economies. Learning by doing (adaptive management) is a major component of each LWG plan. Concomitantly, management projects are implemented using replicated experimental designs and monitored to document the effects of the actions. The partners believe this cooperative effort has increased local governance and ownership in developing and implementing proactive strategies to better manage sensitive species and natural resource issues while addressing local socio-economic concerns.