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Dillon Meeting II

Meeting Summary

Dillon Sage Grouse Local Working Group

February 25, 2004

Welcome and Introductions

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:

  • Materials from the last meeting, including the local working group charter, fact sheets, and meeting summary
  • Table of Contents and Glossary from the Draft State Plan. Since the plan is in the process of being finalized full copies have not yet been made. The Draft State Plan (as released last year) is available at the local working group website and upon request. (See Contact information on the last page of this summary.) Copies of the updated draft plan will be distributed to working group members as soon as it is available. No major substantive changes are anticipated in the process of finalizing the plan. Some questions raised at the first round of meetings in Dillon, Miles City and Glasgow indicated not all persons were familiar with sage grouse terminology, so the Glossary was copied and distributed as follow-up at this second round of meetings.
  • Agency commitments to the plan, excerpted from the draft state plan.
  • Update on actions being taken by all 11 states with sage grouse habitat
  • Section VI of the state plan as most recently updated (as noted above, the state plan is being finalized.) Section VI includes the "toolbox" of action strategies for sage grouse conservation.
  • Table 1-1 from the draft plan that identifies ecological units and sub-units. This was provided in response to a question raised at the first round of meetings, "Will some areas of the state be asked to make up habitat losses experienced in other parts of the state?" The plan indicates: "Maintain the current distribution of sage grouse in Montana within the two broad sagebrush ecological types and their subunits."

Sage Grouse Biology

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:

  • Is lek monitoring the main tool for tracking grouse numbers? To track the breeding population, yes. How much variation is there in birds per lek? Lek data from 1952 to 2003 showed averages as low as 17 and as high as the mid-30s, with some leks having only three, four, or five birds, and some leks having more than 100.
  • Do birds come to the same leks year after year? Sage grouse have a high fidelity to a particular lek.
  • Are we preserving habitat to compensate for predation on sage grouse? Wouldn't we accomplish more by decreasing predators? You can destroy predators, but you have to do it year after year. If you improve the habitat, that improvement and its positive impact on the grouse should be there for any number of years.
  • Do we have more birds of prey now than in past decades, taking sage grouse? Yes, for example, there are more golden eagles now because of legal protections, but their impact on sage grouse is not clear.
  • Have hunter attitudes toward sage grouse changed? Yes. In the 1960s, reports from the check stations showed that birds taken were almost totally sage grouse. Now, it's sharptails and pheasants.
  • Have you found leks abandoned after a change in moisture and then reoccupied? Yes, I did see one that had gone out and started to come back, but then we hit a dry spell, and it's gone again.
  • What if there are heavy rains in early June when the grouse hatch? The chicks are essentially cold-blooded during the first week of life, and they can't regulate their own body temperatures, so a consistent cold rain will kill chicks. It's not as critical after those first few days.
    How far do chicks travel? Two miles is not out of the question. How far can grouse move before they dehydrate? All animals need water, but it doesn't seem as critical with sage grouse; they may get moisture from the soft vegetation.

Sage Grouse Populations in the Region

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.

Group Communication and Process

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:

  • Recognition that these meetings are open, public meetings
  • Meeting summaries are intended to provide an overview so people who weren't at the meeting can understand generally what transpired at the meetings; the meeting summaries are not intended as transcripts. If you find errors in the meeting summaries, please contact Anne Cossitt.
  • Ground rules for group process
  • Participation and Decision-making. Types of decision-making depend on the complexity of the decision. The facilitators will recommend methods for decision-making at appropriate points in upcoming meetings.
  • Cossitt then asked group members to look at maps on display in the meeting room, which showed buffered locations of identified leks. To encourage group members to help fill information gaps, Jim Roscoe mentioned specific sites and asked group members to tell him where birds have been seen in those areas. The group spent about 30 minutes in small groups, discussing where birds and leks are found or talking about other aspects of the project.

Final Comments

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.

PARTICIPANTS

Eric Atkinson
Debby Barrett
Ted Coffman
Larry Davies
Ben Deeble
Margie N. Edsall
Craig Fager
Nate Finch
Pat Fosse
Bill Garrison
Jay Gore
Dick Gosman
Jim Hagenbarth
Garth Haugland
Joe Helle
Theryn and Terese Husely
Gilbert Little
Chuck Maddox
Jules Marchesseault
Sue Marxer
Richard Moore
Mike Mosolf
Frank Nelson
Chuck Robbins
Jim Roscoe
Art Rohrbacher
Patti Rowland
George Trishman
Swede Troedsson
Jeff Welborn
Rich Wheeler
Ron B. Wiseman

Contact:

Contact Anne Cossitt at cossitt@usadig.com, (406) 633-2213, or by mail at 503 Fifth Avenue NW, Park City, MT 59063