While mineral production is Newmont’s core business, environmental stewardship is one of our core values. This includes managing and improving the natural habitat around our operations, as well as sustaining and enhancing healthy ecosystems.
Every plant and animal plays an important role in the health of its ecosystem – from coral reefs in Indonesian seas to cutthroat trout in North American rivers. In Nevada, where the majority of our North American operations are located, we are helping to conserve and rehabilitate large expanses of sagebrush habitat, a landscape that is the life source of the Greater Sage-Grouse. Throughout the Western United States, the Greater Sage-Grouse population and the sagebrush ecosystem have suffered from the invasion of non-native plant species and an increase in wildfires.
Large, frequent wildfires have affected the sagebrush communities that once provided year-round food and habitat for these birds and concealed their nesting grounds from predators. The great expanses of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat are now occupied by cheatgrass, an invasive species that is highly flammable and often invades damaged areas of rangeland. This change in habitat allows nests to be easily spotted and raided by ravens, coyotes and other predators, making it difficult for the Greater Sage-Grouse population to survive. With the goal of protecting these birds, Newmont has committed to helping restore and rehabilitate the sagebrush habitat on its rangelands and near our Nevada operations.
“We have a significant land position in Nevada, most of which is rangeland that happens to be in the heart of the sagebrush ecosystem,” says Jeff White, Director of Environmental Stewardship at Newmont. “This allows us to plan, manage, and influence what happens on the land.” Newmont’s efforts include formulating a new, landscape-scale, multi-species Habitat Conservation Plan for our rangelands. Together, with the assistance of The Nature Conservancy and others, Newmont is planning a series of conservation treatments to improve rangeland health. The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Forecasting ecological models are being used to develop management alternatives on over one million acres of land in northeastern Nevada.
Newmont’s ranches and rangeland provide Greater Sage-Grouse habitat.
According to White, the planning effort incorporates best practices in the management of rangelands, with particular emphasis on sagebrush habitats. In addition to prescribed livestock grazing, which manipulates vegetation that meets management objectives, these practices include rangeland rehabilitation through seeding, prescribed burning, and mechanical treatments. Wildlife-friendly fencing, wildlife and livestock water developments and related conservation practices are also part of the plan. Significantly, the plan will address actions to reduce the dominance of cheatgrass, a fine-textured annual grass that can invade burned areas, displace sagebrush and other native plants, and serve as a fuel for wildfires. When implemented, these conservation practices will contribute to improved rangeland biological diversity and ecosystem integrity.
Other work conducted as part of the plan includes:
- Collection and interpretation of satellite imagery and field data.
- Evaluation of current conditions of 1.2 million acres of Newmont managed lands (both fee owned and federal grazing allotments).
- An expert process, including federal and state agency personnel, for creating and simulating management alternatives.
- The use of computer models and habitat suitability models to evaluate management alternatives.
Key to the success of the conservation plan is collaboration among all of those who are contributing to it. This includes Newmont, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of Nevada, Reno. It also includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Sagebrush Ecosystem Program, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, as well as other resource management organizations and technical experts.
White explains that efforts to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse come at a critical time. Currently, listing the bird as a threatened or endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act is “warranted, but precluded” due to other priority species under evaluation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to make a listing decision in the fall of 2015. While it may eventually move up the list in terms of priority, Newmont and its partners in conservation planning are taking action now to make sure the Greater Sage-Grouse remains a vital, healthy part of the local ecosystem.
This isn’t the first time that Newmont has contributed to the survival of a species through natural resource management and conservation. Since the early 1990s, we have collaborated with neighboring ranchers, state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations on the comprehensive watershed restoration and continuous monitoring of the Maggie Creek watershed, located near our Carlin, Nevada, operations. As a result, we’ve helped to protect the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, a federally listed threatened species now making a comeback in Maggie Creek.
In Nevada and across our global operations, Newmont is committed to leadership in environmental stewardship. And by working in partnership with governments, nonprofit organizations and communities, we are increasing our understanding of the diverse ecosystems in which we work and developing collaborative programs to promote biodiversity management and conservation in those areas.