The Nature Conservancy works with mining industry to conserve sage grouse
Planning for the potential listing of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act is vital in order to ensure Nevada is prepared for likely changes.
The Nature Conservancy has partnered with two mining companies—Barrick Gold and Newmont Gold—to create conservation plans for sage grouse and other species on 1.7 million acres of Nevada land. About 20 percent of the land is privately owned by the companies, and the other 80 percent is public land for which these companies have the grazing and mineral allotments.
“The Nature Conservancy is using landscape conservation forecasting tools to identify what management actions will have what long-term benefit or long-term impact on the landscape so that these companies will continue to operate and mitigate any negative actions that they have for sage grouse or for other species,” said TNC state director Matthew Tuma.
It will take about three years to produce the modeling to prescribe management practices for the land. TNC is in year two with Newmont Gold and in year one with Barrick Gold. Analysis of possible management scenarios for the land will begin in 2015, according to associate state director and mining partnership liaison Michael Cameron. A variety of aspects that affect both sage grouse and their habitat will be evaluated.
“You have encroachment of pinyon juniper close to breeding and nesting areas, which host raptors and ravens and predators,” Cameron said. “You also have fire scars and invasive weeds that require restoration. You have sagebrush that require thinning, another kind of restoration, and then there are grazing practices. In the case of both companies, the properties are historic ranches with cattle operations and so another set of questions will be about how grazing can be modified to both continue to support viable grazing but also to conserve sage grouse.”
Cameron sees these projects as a great opportunity to not only make a difference in ground conservation for sage grouse but also to showcase the “usefulness and applicability” of the advanced science planning tools that TNC has in its arsenal. Tuma added that the methods TNC is using with these companies is a great example for moving toward the sage grouse’s potential listing.
“Oftentimes, when you’re approaching an endangered species listing, there’s a perception that you can’t have both conservation and economic development,” Tuma said. “So I think this project is a testament to where you can get at when you work cooperatively with folks who have a vested interest in sage grouse country. You can still get conservation benefits that are based off of sound science that the Nature Conservancy is producing in a transparent way, but also have some lines for economic development.”
Cameron said that many people have a misconception about the impact of economic development on sage grouse habitat.
“The number of acres that will be lost to fire and weeds is in the order of 10 times as much as is expected to be lost to mining and energy production and those kinds of things,” Cameron said. “The things that are really most threatening are not mines and transmission lines. It’s really getting a handle on some of these changes on the landscape. The conservation plans that TNC will be putting together for the two mining companies will be aiding and addressing those kinds of problems.”