US to spend $9 million to strengthen sagebrush ecosystems

OROFINO, Idaho (AP) — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday announced $9 million for 40 projects in Idaho and seven other western states for sagebrush ecosystems to help fight invasive species and fires. of forest, reduce the spread of junipers, and promote community and economic stability.

The money announced Thursday will be used in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada. Haaland said the money will advance efforts to promote healthy sagebrush landscapes and communities at risk from climate change.

“This is a historic opportunity to invest resources in the health and natural infrastructure of the American sagebrush ecosystem, which is the lifeblood of rural communities and tribal lands across the West,” Haaland said in a statement released during his visit to northern Idaho.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, receives $10 million annually for five years to expand sagebrush ecosystem conservation work. The ecosystem faces a variety of threats, including cheat grass, which is prone to wildfires and wipes out native plants that sage-grouse need to survive.

The greater sage-grouse is a chicken-sized land bird considered an indicator species for the health of the vast western sagebrush landscapes that are home to some 350 species of wildlife. Sage-grouse populations are declining.

“Sagebrush Country is a national treasure that is home to hundreds of species that live nowhere else on the planet,” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said in a statement. “The Service is a partner in a larger constellation of public and private entities coming together for a common vision of a healthy sagebrush ecosystem.”

Giant rangeland wildfires in recent decades have destroyed large areas of sagebrush steppe. Experts say the wildfires were mainly caused by warming temperatures and cheater weeds. Once the cheatgrass takes over, the land is of little value.

A 2018 federal report concluded that efforts to save sagebrush habitat were failing, with invasive plants such as cheatgrass and jellyfishhead covering nearly 160,000 square miles (414,400 square kilometers) public and private land.