RENO, Nev. — Newmont Mining Corp. officials signed an agreement Tuesday with the U.S. government and the state of Nevada to protect some of the most critical sage grouse habitat in the West in exchange for assurances it will be allowed to develop other public lands in the future in the largest gold mining state in the nation.

The deal calls for Newmont to seek approval from state and federal regulators for habitat conservation projects across 1.5 million acres under Nevada’s Conservation Credit System.

Once estimated to total 16 million across the West, the greater sage grouse population has dwindled to as few as 200,000 due in large part to encroachment on its habitat from development, livestock grazing, mining, energy exploration and wildfires.

The bird is considered an indicator of the health of the entire sagebrush ecosystem in the same way the northern spotted owl is considered an indicator species for the overall health of old-growth forests.

In exchange for demonstrating a net gain in grouse habitat, Newmont may receive credits that can later be used to offset impacts related to future mining in Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval said.

“This good-faith, public-private partnership represents a significant and meaningful achievement in the cause of sagebrush habitat and species protection in the western United States,” the Republican governor said.

Assistant Interior Secretary Janice Schneider said it’s the first agreement of this size since her boss, Secretary Sally Jewell, decided nearly a year ago against listing the greater sage grouse as a threatened species across 10 western states.

“This agreement reinforces the department’s efforts to partner throughout the West with the private sector and other stakeholders to demonstrate the power of collaborative conservation and that continued economic growth and conservation of our important natural resource heritage need not be at odds,” said Schneider, assistant for land and minerals management.

Newmont Executive Vice President Elaine Dorward-King said the agreement will “advance sagebrush habitat management in Nevada while supporting continued sustainable mining practices over the long term.”

The north central and northeastern parts of Nevada owned by Newmont contain some of the best remaining sage grouse habitat in the Great Basin stretching from the Sierra to the Wasatch range in Utah.

“Through this planned and coordinated effort to conserve and restore sagebrush habitat on a landscape level, we will be able to advance protection for more than 350 different species of animals and other wildlife and more than 3,500 species of plants that call this ecosystem home,” said Ted Koch, U.S. Fish and Wildlife supervisor for Nevada.

One of the first pilot projects implemented under the agreement will deploy targeted grazing activities on a large private land parcel owned by Newmont to improve the health of desirable plants while combating growth of invasive cheat grass, a non-native species that competes with sage brush and often fuels unnaturally large wildfires.

Other projects will be used to help test and evaluate fuels management strategies and alterative livestock grazing practices.