Purpose of the second round of local working group meetings was to continue local working group efforts and to provide some basic sage grouse information, recognizing that at the first meeting participants had widely differing levels of understanding about sage grouse and need for the state conservation effort.
Anne Cossitt, Cossitt Consulting, introduced herself and team members Charlie Eustace and Susan Bury. She briefly recapped information from the first meeting. (Note: for more detail on information from the first meeting, refer to the first meeting summary. Meeting summaries are available at the local working group website or by contacting Anne Cossitt-see last page of this meeting summary for website address and other contact information.) The Cossitt team is providing facilitation and other support for the local working group effort.
Meeting participants, numbering approximately 30 persons, then introduced themselves.
Anne Cossitt referred to a variety of handouts during the meeting. These included:
Team member Charlie Eustace, a game bird biologist, with more than 30 years of experience in
game bird biology in Montana, presented information about what is known about the sage grouse. He
noted that sagebrush habitat, which the grouse requires for survival and reproduction, has
diminished throughout the species' 11-state range. Over the past century, Montana's sage grouse
population has fluctuated with conditions and is now trending downward. Eustace then reviewed the
species' survival and reproductive needs over the course of the four seasons, and he presented
statistics on lek numbers, numbers of birds harvested, and more. (Full information from the
presentation will be incorporated into a project fact sheet.)
Eustace responded to questions from the group:
Jim Roscoe, local biologist for the Bureau of Land Management, noted that there are gaps in data about sage grouse in the Dillon area, like other parts of the state, although data are more complete for the past five years than for previous periods.
Roscoe said there are between 40 and 45 leks identified in the Madison and Beaverhead county areas, with 35 to 37 leks active in any given year. He pointed out several leks on BLM maps and gave some of the available data and research findings on lek activity and grouse movements. Data indicate that male attendance at some leks is declining while activity at other leks remains more stable. It appears that male numbers need to reach a certain threshold for the lek to remain active -- that is, if only five or 10 males attend a lek, that lek is likely to "blink out." In some cases where birds have stopped using a lek, there is no habitat change or other reason obvious to biologists.
Roscoe also talked about the seasonal movements of the grouse in the area, including some migration across the Divide, and he noted that in higher elevations, a late April snow may delay the peak breeding activity by as much as two weeks.
The biologists were asked if sage grouse go into areas with evergreen trees. Roscoe said studies of radio-collared males show that they have gone into forested areas and old clearcuts, although they suffer mortality on the forest edge, where there are perching sites for raptors. When asked about grouse abandoning leks for no apparent reason, Roscoe said it will be important to try to locate those birds to ensure that the state's grouse populations are estimated accurately.
The group discussed the need for consistent protocols or methods of counting grouse. Roscoe recognized the National Wildlife Federation's Adopt-A-Lek program, in which volunteers use standard protocols to achieve consistent counts of males at leks, to develop better long-term information.
Pat Fosse offered to arrange for the group to see a presentation on the Deseret study of range management in Utah that has resulted in better habitat for wildlife along with increased capacity for livestock grazing. The group expressed interest in seeing this presentation, and Pat agreed to follow up.
Susan Bury invited group members to offer suggestions about communications tools for the project and asked for their opinions about the existing website, a proposed newsletter, and additional fact sheets. The group indicated that press releases, emails, and other avenues for meeting notices have been effective. A group member suggested that the consulting team make clear in its public information that the local working groups are not trying to achieve federal listing of the sage grouse but to prevent the sage grouse from being federally listed. Another member noted that the state plan anticipates a total of 11 working groups in Montana and suggested that people from other parts of the state be invited to the meetings of the first three groups, to get a head start on local working group organization.
Cossitt presented some considerations for local working group process, including:
When the group reconvened, a group member suggested if the local working group remains this large it may be a good idea to break into smaller groups for specific work projects, while ensuring a diversity of viewpoints in those groups. It was noted that there is a great deal of research and project work underway on behalf of sage grouse and that no one group could expect to stay abreast of all developments.
Anne Cossitt concluded the meeting by asking people to think about possible sites for a field
trip. She asked about group members' availability for the next meeting and will send out notice of
the next meeting as soon as possible.
Margie N. Edsall
Theryn and Terese Husely
Ron B. Wiseman
Contact Anne Cossitt at firstname.lastname@example.org, (406) 633-2213, or by mail at 503 Fifth Avenue NW, Park City, MT 59063