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Dillon Meeting III

Meeting Summary

Dillon Sage Grouse Local Working Group

April 29, 2004

Welcome/Introduction

Anne Cossitt welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda, which included developing local strategies for weeds and power lines/generation facilities.

Listing Update

Lori Nordstrom of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) provided an overview of the process for listing species under the Endangered Species Act. On April 21, 2004, FWS announced its "90 day finding" after completing an evaluation of three petitions to list the greater sage-grouse range wide as either threatened or endangered. The Service determined that the petitions and other available information provide substantial biological information indicating that further review of the status of the species is warranted.

Based on the status review, the Service will make one of three possible determinations by end of December 2004 or early 2005:

  1. Listing is not warranted - in which case no further action will be taken.
  2. Listing as threatened or endangered is warranted. In this case, the Service will publish a proposal to list. Generally, there is a one-year period between the time a species is proposed and the final decision.
  3. Listing is warranted but precluded. This means the species is added to the federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred. There would be subsequent annual reviews of the finding until such time as either a listing proposal is published, or a not warranted finding is made based on new information

Questions/comments from participants included:

  • Does the FWS consider every petition? Answer: FWS looks at all petitions, but only those with sufficient documentation trigger the process for a "90 day finding." The petitions for sage grouse in this case were very well documented.
  • Questions were raised about incentive programs, such as the Sagebrush Initiative, as a means to improve habitat. Cossitt indicated that there will be a presentation on the Sagebrush Initiative program at the next meeting.

The deadline for new information on the status review is June 21. It was suggested at the Glasgow local working group meeting that the local working groups provide FWS with a status report of their work. Participants at this meeting in Dillon indicated that would be a good idea as well.

Follow-up: Anne Cossitt will draft a status update to send to FWS on behalf of the Miles City local working group.

Noxious Weed Management

Cossitt briefly reviewed the description of the noxious weed issues related to sage grouse habitat (which begins on page 62 of the draft plan issued March 2004). The group was then asked to review conservation actions for noxious weeds (beginning on page 63 of the draft plan). Participants were asked to work in small groups to answer four questions for each conservation action:

  1. What is already being done?
  2. Who would take the actions (what would landowners do? Agencies? Others?)
    What would be the timeframe for the action (When would it start? When would it be completed? Or would it be ongoing?)
  3. What resources would be needed to accomplish the action?
  4. Participants were also asked to identify resources to answer any questions they couldn't address (e.g., information sources, etc.)

Participants' recommendations on conservation actions in the draft state plan for noxious weeds are as follows:

Goal 1: Conservation Action #1. Inventory and map existing noxious weed populations within and adjacent to occupied sage grouse habitat or suspected range.

Recommendation: There is already a fair amount of mapped data. Work is being done by BLM, Forest Service, weed districts, state agencies, and by some individual land owners. There should be better coordination and information sharing among all with mapped data.

Goal 2: Conservation Action # 1. Develop habitat-specific weed management plans for known sage grouse ranges, using the inventory and map information developed in the action described above.

Recommendation: These agencies (BLM, Forest Service, weed districts, etc.) already have weed plans, but they are not specific to weeds in sage brush habitat. As for mapping, there should be better coordination among agencies in planning and taking action regarding plans. If there is a need to spray, the county weed district should take the lead in coordinating spray efforts. (The group that reported on this goal indicated that they were unaware of large sagebrush areas with significant weed infestations.)

Goal 3: Conservation Action #1. Promote measures that prevent the introduction and spread of weed seeds and other reproducing plant parts.

Recommendation/Comments: Counties, railroads, and others are already proactive on this. Some agency efforts are very effective. Need more education and advertising about the issue (teach the general public, including hunters). Encourage car washes. Identify new weed types coming into the area. Educate local nursery operators about plant species that may start as ornamental but become invasive.

Goal 4: Prevent the initial establishment of weeds within or on lands surrounding sage grouse habitat. (8 conservation actions)

Recommendations:

  • Get an education program in local schools about weeds and effects on sage grouse
  • Beaverhead County already has a program, "Beaverhead County Weed Day" to highlight and educate regarding weed issues
  • Use "Backcountry Horsemen" to help control weeds and map existing weed infestations (some of this is already ongoing)
  • Landowners are already involved in monitoring and attempting to control weed infestations
  • Start recognizing good efforts to showcase and highlight good work
  • Need: resources like equipment and sprayers
  • Recognize and provide education on what is effective treatment
  • Provide information about weed-free seed/hay sources
  • Need to emphasize consistency for weed management across land ownership types
  • Provide specialized education and management techniques for specific weed types (e.g., houndstongue)
  • Use local sources for re-seeding
  • Travel plans being developed by various agencies should recognize effects of construction and make plans to limit disturbance, educate construction crews, and mitigate as necessary
  • Need to develop a common, standardized database for mapping that all agencies can submit information to.

Goal 5: Ensure that land managers and users (general public) are educated about the threat noxious weeds pose to native plant communities and work together to find appropriate management solutions. (7 conservation actions)

Recommendations:

  • Some recreationists, including hunters, and some landowners (may especially be an issue with smaller land parcels) could care less about the effects of their activities on spread of weeds, and no amount of education will change that.
  • Counties already do a major portion of weed control and have established priorities.
  • Appears agencies are already doing a pretty good job training and informing staff about weed issues.
  • If people aren't sure about how to apply a herbicide (and how it might affect sage brush habitat), they should ask before they apply it.
  • County weed districts, BLM, Forest Service already have follow-up procedures for treated areas, including site monitoring. Individuals are also likely doing this, although the procedures may be " in their heads" rather than written policies.
  • The county is already providing training for local, state, and federal agencies.
  • Agency field staff are already being educated on weed identification, weed spread and ways to treat weeds.

Goal 6: Minimize effects of weed control treatments on non-target organisms. (3 conservation actions)

Recommendations:

  • County is already using integrated weed management treatment methods.
  • Timing of application is important as well for minimizing effects to non-target plant species and also to sage grouse. Recognize that cheatgrass can be a real problem. Observation: some of the more selective, specialized products are much more expensive.
  • Need to clarify seeding programs among agencies.

Goal 7: Provide the necessary funding mechanisms and dedicated labor to act immediately when new infestations are identified within sage grouse habitat. (3 conservation actions)

Recommendations:

  • The existing major weed sites are known. Need to encourage mapping and GPS readings by individuals and agencies (note that many ranchers use GIS/GPS systems already for various purposes).
  • Need to lobby for more funding for weed control.
  • The specialized problem weeds for sage grouse habitat should be identified. Need funds to address issue—using existing funding sources will really limit new efforts.

Summary of Group Recommendations: Cossitt asked the group if there were any items listed that someone did not agree with or had special concerns about. The following items were identified:

  • Add to the list—need to have ATVs comply with recommendations, e.g., wash ATV before heading out to avoid spreading weed seeds from other locations
  • Question: Is there an enforcement issue with weed control? Where does the money come from for weed control enforcement? Is there a need for a "set-aside" to deal with non-compliance?

Power Lines and Generation Facilities

Cossitt briefly reviewed the description of power line issues related to sage grouse habitat (which begins on page 67 of the draft plan issued March 2004). The group was then asked to review conservation actions in small groups and make recommendations for actions similar to the exercise for noxious weeds.

Participants' recommendations on conservation actions in the draft state plan for power lines and generation facilities are as follows:

It was noted that golden eagles are the primary raptor species that kill sage grouse in the Dillon area. Power lines provide perches for eagles and other raptors that enhance their ability to spot and hunt sage grouse in flat sage brush country where high elevation perches would otherwise not exist.

Goal 1: Minimize the impacts of power lines on sage grouse and sagebrush habitats. Issue area: Addressing existing power lines. (5 conservation actions)

Recommendations/Comments:

  • Need to get people to report problem areas.
  • Modify power lines to limit perches as/where needed
  • Re-routing and burying seem like pretty difficult, expensive measures

Goal 1. Issue Area: Addressing new power lines (9 conservation actions)

Recommendations:

  • Agencies should address power lines and effect on sage grouse in their Resource Management Plans (or comparable planning processes)
  • Local subdivision regulations (e.g., county regulations) could address location/effect of power lines on sage grouse
  • Provide incentives for alternative energy (so don't need to run new power lines)—not clear what incentives currently exist
  • Conservation Actions 6-9: the agencies need to follow these recommendations, especially to make sure that item #9 (removing power lines when use is completed) is followed.

Goal 1. Issue Area: Existing power lines causing consistent or significant collision mortality. (3 conservation actions)

Recommendation/Comments:

  • Use markers on power lines (including glow-in-dark markers) to avoid sage grouse collisions in habitat areas
  • Bury line in extreme problem areas
  • Federal agencies should be evaluating problem areas and identifying mitigation measures on land they manage
  • Private individuals should notify local power companies if they see a problem area
  • Power companies are required to take action per the migratory bird act
  • Use GIS/GPS technology to map problem locations

Goal 2: Minimize the impacts of fossil fuel generation facilities on sage grouse and sagebrush habitats.

Recommendations: There are no existing fossil fuel generation facilities in the area nor are any expected over the next 5-10 years. The group decided that no local actions are needed for this issue topic for the Dillon area.

Goal 3: Minimize the impacts of wind generation facilities on sage grouse and sagebrush habitats. (6 conservation actions)

Recommendations

  • Grid—intertie system
  • Positive prevention measures now (start with information and working with private individuals as wind generation facilities are sited now.
  • Ensure mitigation measures are in place before wind generation facilities are sited
  • Need for more information/research: does blade design or color make a difference for reducing collision fatalities?
  • Could funding from mitigation come from tax incentive programs?
  • Map of eagle nests would be helpful in determining where to avoid wind generation facilities
  • New permits for wind generation facilities should address sage grouse-related issues; if easements are necessary to convey power from wind generation facility to other location then easements may be required and that could be a trigger for some mitigation

Wrap-up

Cossitt asked the group if they had any suggestions for making the upcoming meetings more productive or useful, or if they had other suggestions regarding the newsletter, or any other suggestion. There were no comments on the newsletter.

The following recommendations were made for inviting people to upcoming meetings dealing with specific topics:

 

Topic

Invite

Livestock Grazing

Red Bluff Experimental Station

Jeff Mosely, MSU

Carl Wambolt, MSU

Staff of Montana's congressional delegation (Baucus, Rehberg, Burns)

Predator

Representatives from the Dept of Livestock, USDA—Wildlife Services Division -try Graeham McDougal in Grant or his boss (in Billings or Helena)

 

There were no suggestions for changing the meeting format. (Note, however that one participant came up after the meeting and requested that there be more focus on providing outreach education to K-8 public schools about sage grouse issues and conservation)

Follow-up: Cossitt Consulting will compile the work of this group meeting on conservation actions and begin to provide more detail for assuring that the conservation actions will measure up to the FWS PECE criteria (Policy for Evaluating Conservation Effectiveness). The updated version will then be routed to local working group participants for review.

Participants:

Dwight Ashcraft
Eric Atkinson
Tim Bozorth
Ted Coffman
Shilo Comeau
Larry Davies
Ben Deeble
Phyllis Denton
Jack Eddie
Margie Edsall
Craig Fager
Gary Ferris
Nate Finch
Bill Garrison
Randy Gazda
Jim Hagenbarth
Ross Hansen
Garth Haugland
Joe Helle
John Helle
Glenn Hockett
Thoms Komberec
Gilbert Little
Chuck Maddox
Jules Marchesseault
Sam Milodragovich
Richard Moore
Frank Nelson
Reyer Rens
Steve Sherman
Brad Weatherd
Scott Weinhoff
Jeff Welborn
Jim Wisman
Colleen Wisinksi