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Dillon Meeting I

Meeting Summary
Dillon Sage Grouse Local Working Group
December 17, 2003

Welcome/Introduction

Anne Cossitt, Cossitt Consulting, introduced herself and team member, Barb Beck. The team of Cossitt, Beck, and Susan Bury has been hired by the Sage Grouse Working Group to convene and assist local working groups in three locations, Dillon, Miles City, and Glasgow. The purpose of the local working groups is to discuss and determine what actions can be taken to benefit sage grouse and sagebrush habitat. The meeting participants then introduced themselves.

Background Information

Barb Beck explained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has received a number of petitions asking them to list the Sage Grouse as either a threatened or endangered species. She explained the listing process and the fact that a 90-day finding on whether there is enough information in the petition to consider listing is due out from the FWS in January. Beck went on to explain that because of habitat losses and declines in sage grouse populations, 11 western states, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service had entered into an agreement to prepare plans for each state. She familiarized the group with the contents of the Management Plan and Conservation Strategies for Sage Grouse in Montana.

Copies of the local working group charter were passed out. Cossitt went over the charter explaining the goals of the groups, timeframes, products, roles, and expectations. She asked the participants to consider making a commitment to attend as many meetings as possible so that the group is as productive as possible.

Discussion

The meeting was opened up to comments and participants were asked to express concerns and observations. The following comments were offered:

  • Habitat hasnt changed in the Grasshopper Creek area, predators are the problem
  • Just what is causing the decline in populations?
  • An 18-month effort is too conservative, it will take longer to get results.
  • Similar past collaborative efforts have not been successful, species were listed.
  • If FWS has information, can we have access to it too? (answer is Yes)
  • Sage Grouse populations are down in the Ruby, its due to coyotes and bobcats.
  • Experience hunting sage grouse in the Medicine Lodge drainage since 1974. Used to see hundreds of sage grouse in a 3 square mile area, now there are only a few birds. One possible explanation is that there has been seismic testing there.
  • Concerned that the Forest Service and BLM might stop things in the meantime, waiting for this group to make decisions.
  • The habitat in at least some areas has not changed, but the numbers of sage grouse are down.
  • Something else is going on besides habitat problems.
  • Cheat grass is a real problem, losing native vegetation species.
  • There are few areas in Beaverhead County where sagebrush control has been effective. It comes back after spraying, burning, mowing, etc.
  • Big Sheep Creek basin observation--sage grouse need diverse habitat including grass and sagebrush.
  • What impacts will there be to grazing operations because of sage grouse?
  • Ranchers are the best friends of the sage grouse. We need constructive advice from knowledgeable agency people to fit specific situations.
  • How many birds are taken by sport falconry each year?
  • Timber is encroaching on sagebrush in many public land interface areas.
  • More and more wildlife species are using areas developed by humans.
  • Chemicals are needed to control weeds, dont want more regulation of them.
  • The number of raccoons is way up, caught 94 in two traps on 20 acres.
  • How will sage grouse be affected by West Nile Virus? (jury is still out)
  • Observation that when sheep numbers were highest, so were sage grouse numbers. A Deseret Study has documented this. Also related to this is the current practice of staying out of riparian areas and grazing uplands harder.
  • We dont really know what is causing the numbers of sage grouse to decline.
  • An NRA report concludes that the sage grouse population is in dire straights.
  • The raptor population has increased while other predators have been controlled.
  • There needs to be coordination to ensure that actions taken to benefit one species dont jeopardize another. Its important to recognize the overall ecology.
  • Many people are already taking positive actions on their land. We need to learn who is doing what and what can be learned. Need to get resources to landowners.
  • Is there anyplace where sage grouse numbers are increasing? FWP is working to identify baseline population numbers.
  • MSU is looking at incentive programs for landowners, but need to get funds.
  • Landowners should be keeping track of their observations and sharing with the agencies if they are comfortable doing so. All of the information is helpful. A standardized reporting form needs to be distributed.
  • Range ecologists need to be part of this discussion in addition to biologists.
  • Without controlling sagebrush, there isnt enough grass. Without enough grass, ranchers suffer economically and so do Main Street businesses.
  • Concern expressed that many people have personal agendas in these processes.
  • What do landowners have to gain by increasing sage grouse numbers on private land when we dont hunt them?
  • Speaking from experience in Idaho, the issue of sage grouse is a real one, and it is being used by some interests. We need to manage for sustainability. Ranchers shine when the discussion gets down to locations. Whether the sage grouse conservation effort is successful will be determined by the local working groups.
  • The health of the sagebrush ecosystem is the bottom line for all of us.

Wrap-up

Anne thanked all of those who attended the meeting recognizing how valuable their time is. She informed the participants that the meeting summary from this and future meetings would be e-mailed to those who have provided e-mail addresses and also posted on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website. The group selected Wednesday, February 25, at 3 p.m. for their next meeting. The meeting will be held at the Search and Rescue Building. A news release will be put out closer to the date to remind people.

Participants

Norman Ashcroft
Debby Barrett
Jay Bodner
Kelly Bockting
Jennifer Boyer
Tim Bozorth
Ted Coffman
Shilo Comeau
Ben Deeble
Phyllis Denton
Barbara Garcia
Bill Garrison
Randy Gazda
Dick Gosman
Jim Hagenbarth
Garth Haugland
Tom Heintz
Joe Helle
John Helle
Hans Humbert
Peter Husby
Bill Kolar
Gilbert Little
Chuck Maddox
Jules Marchesseault
Ray and Sue Marxer
Sam Milodragovich
James Mingus
Mike Mosolf
Dave Moss
Bruce Nelson
Frank Nelson
Tom Osen
Dan Pence
Jim Roscoe
Patti Rowland
Don Schaffner
Rob VanDeren
Dave Walton
Brad Weatherd
Jeff Wellborn