Funding sage grouse conservation may be just as frustrating as finding the best way to use the money. For while there is an obvious need to improve the bird’s population, there isn’t much money available to move conservation efforts forward.
Federal officials have declared the sage grouse warrants endangered-species protection but have held off from actually listing the bird as endangered. Meanwhile, local working groups are attempting to continue their work to improve grouse habitat and grow populations throughout the state — all in hopes of averting a listing.
As a South Magic Valley working group member, Rob Lonsinger estimated his group will need $80,000 to fund its projects next year.
The group’s members spent last year clearing juniper brush throughout southern Idaho. Removing the brush was meant to improve grouse habitat, but the group lacks data to show grouse populations have since improved.
“We want to know if we’re being effective but we don’t have the data yet,” said Lonsinger, who is also a regional wildlife biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
In order to get the money needed for monitoring equipment, Lonsinger will compete against other working groups and other conservation organizations for government-funded grants.
The group is currently reviewing 20 grant options from state and federal programs that help fund sage grouse conservation. The grants range from $10,000 to $75,000, with different requirements on how and where to spend the money. Lonsinger is hopeful the group will receive a grant but is worried the amount may be too small.
“We’re really going to have to pull at every chance we can get,” he said. “We can provide time and support but a grant is imperative.”
Local working groups were once funded by government earmarks apportioned to them by Congress. Earlier this year, earmarks were frozen in an attempt to reduce government spending.
“We don’t where our next source of funding will come from,” said Jon Beals, project manager for the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation.
Beals said this year’s $1 million earmark has already been promised out for projects and working group facilitators. By spring, when groups typically apply for project funding, there may not be any of that funding left.
“We’re not certain if we’ll have funding for projects at this time,” he said. “There hasn’t been any new money to fill in the gaps.”