SPOKANE (AP) — A new study of sage grouse in Eastern Washington has found a surprisingly large benefit from a federal program that subsidizes farmers to plant grasses and native shrubs instead of crops.

The study concluded the CRP program is probably the reason that sage grouse still live in some portions of Washington's Columbia River Basin.

The study was conducted by the University of Washington, plus state and federal researchers, and will appear in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

Sage grouse are ground-dwelling, chicken-sized birds found in 11 Western states. As few as 200,000 remain in the U.S., down from a peak population of about 16 million.

About 1,000 of the birds live in Eastern Washington, in three main places: the Yakima Training Center, Moses Coulee, and the Crab Creek area.

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