Frequently Asked Questions
What is a sage-grouse?
A sage-grouse is a large round-winged, ground-dwelling bird with a round body, small head,
and long tail, whose sole habitat is the sagebrush steppe of the intermountain
West. Females are mottled brown, black, and white. Males are larger and, in
spring, they have a white ruff around their necks, a black throat, a yellow eyecomb, and bright yellow air sacks on their breasts. The feathers on the back,
wings, and tail are mostly brown, with some white and black spots. Both sexes
have white bellies outlined in black. The greater sage-grouse can grow up to 30
inches long and two feet tall, weighing from 2.5 to 7 pounds and eats sagebrush
leaves, wildflowers, and insects. In winter, sage-grouse can live on a 100
percent sagebrush diet. Chicks must have a high quality insect diet for the
first several weeks after hatching. During mating season (March to May), the
birds meet on patches of bare ground called leks, where the males perform
elaborate strutting displays and females evaluate their performance and choose
Why do we care about the sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem?
dominates much of western North America, with approximately 165 million acres
of potential habitat. Early settlers traveling by wagon train called it the
sagebrush sea. Despite its prevalence and amazing resilience to climatic
extremes, it is an ecosystem that is being challenged by a combination of
forces. Years of drought conditions and wildfire have accelerated the decline
of the sagebrush habitat.
Nevada is known
as the Sagebrush State. Its sagebrush ecosystem supports many animals from
sage-grouse and pygmy rabbits to mule deer and antelope. In addition to Nevada,
sage-grouse can be found in 10 Western states and Canada. They live at
elevations ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet and depend on sagebrush for food
and cover. The sage-grouse populations are considered a harbinger of the
overall health of the sagebrush ecosystem.
male lek attendance in Nevada in 2016 (28.2 males per active lek) was 15.2% greater
than the preceding 20 year average (24.5 males per active lek) across the
state, and a 19.3% increase from 2015 (23.7). The drop in male attendance was
expected due to consecutive years of poor production and recruitment. Some
areas experienced more drastic decreases than others, and, in a few cases, some
areas exhibited a more stable trend. (Information compiled from the 2017 Nevada
Department of Wildlife Nevada Sage-grouse Conservation Project Final
Performance Reports). For Nevada, the potential listing of the sage-grouse as
threatened or endangered would greatly impact the management of lands. It would
limit back-country tourism which is a mainstay for many rural Nevada
communities and other industries such as ranching, mining, and renewable energy
How are conditions impacting the sagebrush growth?
While the sagebrush is seemingly hearty with two kinds of root
systems and depends on winds for pollination, it does not regenerate well after
wildfire and takes a long time to grow. Once this important vegetation is lost,
the terrain is more susceptible to invasive or opportunistic species such as
cheat grass, pinon pine, juniper trees, and other invasive or encroaching
plants that can compete with the sagebrush for space and nutrients.
Why is the Nevada Conservation Credit System (CCS) necessary?
that impact sage-grouse habitats have been paying mitigation fees or conducting
mitigation activities in recent years to off-set their impacts. However, the
ability to objectively quantify the increase or decrease in the quality of the
habitats through mitigation efforts has been missing. Not all acres of
sagebrush are equal and do not necessarily provide high quality habitat for
sage-grouse. As such, mitigation discussions have been conducted on a
case-by-case basis and often have been a subjective process that can result in
long negotiations based on multiple sets of information at the table. The
CCS brings in an objective process, based on best available sage-grouse science
in Nevada, to quantify quality, or function, of sage-grouse habitats at several
On the credit
side, using the concept of credit projects that have a requirement for
maintaining habitat function over time is a step beyond the previous strategy
that put the improvement on the landscape, but there was no long-term
commitment to maintain the mitigation site. In addition, giving credit
developers the incentive of profit to engage in conservation actions provides
the opportunity for conservation actions on private lands.
While many of
Nevada’s most significant threats are something other than anthropogenic
disturbances (e.g. fire, invasive plants, pinyon/juniper expansion, etc.), the
need exists to sufficiently address fragmentation and other degradation caused
by large scale human disturbances. This need was the impetus for the
development of a robust tool that could adequately measure enhancement and
protection activities (credits) that would offset anthropogenic disturbances
(debits) in order to maintain a net benefit to sage-grouse and their
What is the CCS and how does it function?
impacts from disturbance (debits) are off-set by conservation actions (credits)
and credit developers are rewarded for their good work.
Disturbance projects are evaluated for the number of debits incurred. Credit projects are evaluated
for the number of credits conserved. Those creating debits will need to
purchase credits in an amount necessary to off-set their impact. For a given
project site, the quality (function) of habitat is multiplied by the quantity
of habitat (acres) – this results in a determination of functional acres for
the project. Functional acres are then translated into credits or debits.
Credit developers can make a profit on the credits that they sell.
What is a credit and debit and how are they determined?
determined by the amount of functional acres within the project site above
general regional conditions (baseline). This can be achieved by committing to
maintain the current functional acres over time (referred to as “preservation
project”, though active management of the site is required) or by enhancing or
restoring the project site and committing to maintain the additional functional
acres achieved over time (referred to as “enhancement” or “restoration”
acre is represented by the assessed habitat functionality above baseline
multiplied by the total number of acres being considered for enrollment.
In general, functionality incorporates three separate scales:
Scale – Desktop analysis
importance factor (core, priority, general management areas)
limited availability of seasonal habitats (breeding, late brood rearing,
factor (distance between the credit site and the debit site – Debit projects
Local Scale –
suitability index (provided by US Geological Survey analysis in Nevada)
impacts (with field review)
Site Scale –
Field data collection
Canopy cover –
Sagebrush and other shrubs, perennial grasses, perennial forbs, invasive annual
Sagebrush and other shrubs
The following figures demonstrate a simplified version of the concepts of functional acres,
functional acres above baseline, and credits generated:
Functional acre concept.
Functional acres above baseline for a credit project.
3: Credits generated from a credit project.
are calculated in a similar way; however, the post-project functional acres are
subtracted from the baseline (pre-project conditions) functional acres to
determine the loss in habitat value.
The CCS Manual
and Habitat Quantification Tool and other documents provide explicit
detail on calculating credits and debits and are available here on the Program Documents page.
Who can develop credits?
Credits can be
developed within sage-grouse habitat on private, tribal, and public
lands. Private landowners, on a voluntary basis, are currently eligible
to participate in the program. Guidance for public land enrollment in the
CCS is being developed and may be eligible for enrollment in the near future. A
project validation checklist has been developed to provide a quick, preliminary
determination of project eligibility and can be found here.
active list of credits available for potential purchase will also be maintained
on this website in the near future so that buyers of credit can initiate
contact with potential credit developers.
How much is a credit (functional acre) worth?
are market-driven and may be sold for any price that a credit developer sets to
be financially viable for their needs. There is no set value for a
What is the contract period for credits or debits?
Credit project durations are a minimum of 30 years with 5 year term increments, up to
perpetuity. Credit developers may set the contract period for their
project. A credit buyer must purchase credits that are equal in duration
to the life of the disturbance being offset.
What is the timing for verification and continued performance of credit projects?
be maintained over the length of the contract, meaning the overall
functionality of the project site must be maintained. The verification
process is in place to meet this need. It essentially involves re-sampling the same habitat attributes that were used in the initial credit
calculation with reduced effort to ensure the required habitat function is maintained.
What happens if a credit site is destroyed or impacted by an act of nature, such as fire?
The simple answer is when credits generated by a credit site are invalidated by an event
or circumstance beyond the control of the credit developer, such as wildfire,
the credit developer will not be held fully liable. The credit developer and
CCS administrator will discuss if it is possible to restore the project site to
recoup the lost credits. If agreed, restoration activities will be initiated.
If the likelihood of success for restoration is low, the remaining credit
obligation will be fulfilled from a reserve account maintained by the CCS
Administrator, which acts as an insurance policy for the overall CCS and the
contract with the credit developer is cancelled without penalties.
Are there restrictions to participation if land is already under an easement or other types of conservation contracts?
Yes and no. If there are current contracts on land being considered for
enrollment into the CCS, the source of the funding and terms of any contract
agreements will influence any restrictions or limitations. This will need to be
determined case-by-case, but does not necessarily preclude the property from
being enrolled. Potential restrictions may include reducing the amount of
credits available for entry or eliminating those lands from inclusion until the
current contract expires.
is discussed as “additionality” in the mitigation banking world. The intent
behind it is to make sure that the conservation action that is off-setting
impacts is above and beyond conservation that would have occurred anyway,
outside this system. The intent is to ensure that credit projects are providing
lift to sage-grouse habitats to off-set the impacts from habitat disturbance
and loss. In addition, some funding sources have restrictions on earning a
profit on top of their funding. “Double dipping” is not allowable under
What are the costs associated with developing credits or analyzing the debit amount (credits needed) to offset disturbance?
associated with analyzing and calculating both credits and debits will be
variable. Some fees may be flat, but each type of project will require
third-party pre-project verification and other costs associated with
originating and managing the contract. The size, location, and complexity
of each project will have a direct influence on cost. Additionally,
credit projects require management and maintenance throughout the life of the
contract. Each credit project for which credits are transferred requires financial assurances to ensure project success in the long run and protect the system from avoidable reversals.
The intent is for the sale price of the credits to cover all of the above costs
to the credit developer.
Is a credit developer locked in at the number of credits initially established?
developer must maintain, at a minimum, the number of credits that they have
committed to in the participant contract for the duration stated within the
contract. Additional credits may be generated over time. If at the
time of the initial contract, the credit developer agrees to perform
enhancements or restoration (e.g. pinyon/juniper removal, meadow/riparian
enhancement, livestock grazing practices, etc.) that indicate measurable
habitat improvement over a period of years, s/he may be entitled to sell these
additional credits over time.
How do I enroll in the CCS?
If a landowner
(or other authorized agent) is interested in participating in the program, they
can download and complete the validation checklist located here and submit it to the CCS administrator. Once the CCS
administrator has reviewed the validation checklist, and determined that it
meets the initial criteria, a more formal dialogue will take place to establish
the next steps needed to be taken to begin the credit development process.