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 combat invasive species and wildfire, reduce the spread of juniper trees 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 threatened by climate change.
“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,” said Haaland in a statement issued while visiting northern Idaho.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is receiving $10 million per year for five years to expand work to conserve sagebrush ecosystems. The ecosystem faces a variety of threats, notably from cheatgrass, which is prone to wildfire and wipes out native plants that sage grouse need to survive.
Sage grouse are chicken-sized, ground-dwelling birds considered an indicator species for the health of vast sagebrush landscapes in the West that support some 350 species of wildlife. Sage grouse populations have been declining.
“Sagebrush country is a national treasure that supports hundreds of species that live nowhere else on the planet,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams in a statement. “The Service is a partner in a larger constellation of public and private entities pulling together toward a common vision for a healthy sagebrush ecosystem.”
Giant rangeland wildfires in recent decades have destroyed vast areas of sagebrush steppe. Experts say the wildfires have mainly been driven by warming temperatures and cheatgrass. Once cheatgrass takes over, the land is of little value.
A federal report in 2018 concluded efforts to save sagebrush habitat were failing, with invasive plants such as cheatgrass and medusahead on nearly 160,000 square miles (414,400 sq. kilometers) of public and private lands.