June 16, 2014

For Immediate Release


Ranching and Energy Economics in Sage-Grouse Country are the Topics of Two New Policy Briefs

By September 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must either list the Greater Sage-Grouse as an endangered species, or remove it altogether from its current status as a candidate species. The economic ramifications of an endangered-species listing on western ranchers and the energy industry are the focus of two new policy briefs issued by the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP). 


The first brief, titled “Ranching Economics and Sage-Grouse in the West,” explores this issue from the perspective of western ranchers, many of whom rely on public lands to meet their animals’ grazing needs. Their future access to this land may change as a result of proposed conservation measures designed to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse. The brief explores the economic implications of two of these proposed conservation measures, and provides several policy options and recommendations for minimizing their economic impacts.


The three-page brief outlines the livestock-grazing alternatives that ranchers can employ to minimize impacts on Sage-Grouse populations, including adjusting the seasonal timing of their grazing and reducing the number of animals that are grazed on public lands. These two measures are the focus of a ranch-level economic analysis conducted by the brief’s authors; their results form the basis for their policy recommendations and suggestions for ways to improve economic impact analysis.


“Cattle ranchers who are affected by changing land-use policies have limited options on how to respond, because of the land-ownership patterns in the Western U.S.,” said John Tanaka, a professor of Ecosystem Science and Management at the University of Wyoming and one of the brief’s authors. “Economic impacts felt by individual ranchers will cascade into communities, too, and it’s important to consider these impacts when making policy decisions.” In addition to Tanaka, other authors of this brief include Neil Rimbey, professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Idaho, and Allen Torell, professor of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at New Mexico State University.


The second policy brief, titled “Implications of a Greater Sage-Grouse Listing on Western Energy Development,” discusses the protection mechanisms that would be invoked with an endangered-species listing, and the potential effects these mechanisms could have on current and future western energy projects. The brief also explains that the sheer volume of energy projects in the region will likely magnify these effects.


“Energy is a huge industry in the West, and the 11 western states that contain Sage-Grouse habitat account for 27 percent of the nation’s total energy production,” explained the brief’s author, Temple Stoellinger of the University of Wyoming. “If the Sage-Grouse is listed, the vast number of companies that will be required to consult with the FWS will likely overwhelm the agency, leading to a backlog that could delay project approvals and increase costs.”


In the brief, Stoellinger provides three policy recommendations on actions that can be taken to reduce the negative effects of a listing.


“Ranching Economics and Sage-Grouse in the West” and “Implications of a Greater Sage-Grouse Listing on Western Energy Development” are the latest in a series of NARDeP policy briefs that explore the increasingly contentious and complex agricultural and rural development issues facing the U.S. They are available online at the NARDeP website, along with all the briefs in the series.


NARDeP was organized in 2012 by the four US Regional Rural Development Centers and is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under a competitive grant (Number 2012-70002-19385). A virtual center based at Penn State University, it engages land-grant universities as well as national organizations, agencies, and experts to develop and deliver timely policy-relevant information around signature areas identified by its advisory boards. More information about NARDeP is available at