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Dillon Meeting V

Meeting Summary
Dillon Area Sage Grouse Local WorkingGroup
September 15, 2004

Summary prepared by Anne Cossitt, October 4, 2004

revised 10-8, 10-13-04

Welcome/Introductions

Anne Cossitt, Local Working Group Facilitator, welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda.  Participants introduced themselves.

Wrap-up and Follow-up

Anne Cossitt reviewed actions since the last meeting, which included a letter to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service regarding their habitat-wide sage grouse status review, and a letter to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks regarding the state plan Environmental Assessment.  Both of these letters are available on the sage grouse website at:

http://www.fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/sagegrouse/default.html

Recreational Disturbance of Sage Grouse

Cossitt handed out the matrix of conservation actions in the state plan to address recreational disturbance of sage grouse.  Representatives of various agencies and groups discussed briefly their issues, concerns, and actions related to recreational disturbance of sage grouse.

Art Rohrbacher, USFS, spoke briefly indicating that recreational disturbance isn't currently much of an issue on national forest system lands because there are no known leks on the forest.  There is grouse use on the forest, but it is mostly during late brood-rearing and as the birds migrate to and from Idaho. 

Rick Waldrup, BLM, said that most recreation on BLM is already dispersed, not concentrated in a particular area known to be used by sage sage grouse.  The Resource Management Plan (RMP) that is now being finalized puts emphasis on public information and signage, and although this is not specifically for sage grouse, the information could reduce impacts from recreation on sage grouse.

Craig Fager, FWP, said that interest in viewing leks was definitely growing.  Five or six years ago, there may have been a one or two inquiries about where to see grouse on a lek.  FWP personnel could arrange to take such small numbers out with them on their counts. Last  year, there were a dozen inquiries, making it much more difficult to make arrangements for recreational viewing to coincide with FWP counts.  One person has contacted him to find out about starting a commercial operation for viewing grouse on leks.  Craig said there are only 2 or 3 high quality viewing sites for recreationists and there is some concern about the potential effect of recreational viewing on the grouse.  Craig said that he is coordinating with the other agencies and is close to getting started on a policy locally to address recreational viewing.

Ben Deeble, National Wildlife Federation (NWF), said that NWF does not organize recreational viewing, but is active in the spring with staff and volunteers counting birds on the leks.  Asked about the use of dogs to find birds, Ben replied that dogs are used but only during the day when there are no grouse on the leks.  Dogs are used to help to help determine if there are any birds around leks assumed to be extinct.  There is an established protocol for how the dogs are used.

Chuck Maddox, DNRC, said that DNRC does not do any special coordination of wildlife viewing on state lands. 

General Questions/Comments:

Participants discussed how to manage recreational viewing.  Is it better to focus attention and recreational viewing on a couple of known locations and actively manage the viewers so they don't disturb the birds?  Or is it better to disperse viewing so there are fewer people at any one location?

Problems with dispersed, un-managed viewing include the potential for viewers to disturb each other and the birds.  One participant indicated that he'd seen three separate groups pull up to the same lek within 15 minutes of each other and the last group pulled up so close to the lek, it scattered the birds.  That's the kind of problem that can happen when viewing is not better coordinated. And you can't coordinate every site.

Other comments:

  • How to get people to focus on just one or two sites and to actively manage viewing at those sites?   One of the few good lek viewing areas is in an area proposed to be closed to motorized travel in the BLM's draft RMP.  Ben Deeble asked the BLM to keep roads open, at least to the viewing location so that people would have a good, accessible viewing area.
  • Local working group could work to identify and develop viewing sites for the public.  There is some tourism potential from viewing (Sam Milodragovich mentioned viewing and tourism in Colorado with Gunnison's sage grouse). 
  • why allow or promote lek-tourism and recreational viewing, which can disturb the grouse, but not allow cattle near the leks?
  • Project to test effects of recreational viewing on sage grouse?
  • Do Indians here "Take" birds off the leks like Shoshone do in Idaho?  (part of spring fertility ritual) Ben Deeble:  No, not happening here.
  • Coordinate viewing to avoid impacts—work to steer people to one or two sites rather than have them show up randomly (and sometimes on top of each other at various locations)
  • Get information out to people so they can view responsibly  (photographers, horn hunters, viewers, etc.)
  • Closing areas for potentially vulnerable populations?  Could result in pushing impact to another location
  • Consider the effects of all recreation (not just lek viewing) on all types of habitat (winter, summer)—not just leks

Roads and Motorized Vehicles

Cossitt handed out the matrix of conservation actions in theb state plan to address roads and motorized vehicles.  Representatives of various agencies and groups discussed briefly their issues, concerns, and actions related to recreational disturbance of sage grouse.

Art Rohrbacher, USFS, reported that only street-legal OHV are allowed on FS roads; FS restricts OHV to roads and trails.  Many FS roads already have seasonal closures and that the biggest OHV use is during hunting season.  The Forest Service is in the process of developing the Forest Plan revision (including roads (considering closures for wildlife purposes).  The FS has a baseline inventory of existing roads.

Rick Waldrup, BLM, said the new RMP would include a travel element.  Like the FS, there is no off-road travel allowed on BLM lands.  The BLM also has a baseline inventory of existing roads.  The biggest road-related challenge is on lower elevation areas where it is more open.  The land use plan (RMP) will designate routes open to motorized use.  Any routes not designated open would be closed.

Chuck Maddox, DNRC, indicated that DNRC does not have a baseline inventory, but if they did, they would never keep up because state lands are getting miles of new roads every year made illegally by recreationists.  The only roads open on state trust land for motorized travel are those county, state, federal roads, Forest Service or BLM main access roads as denoted on the interagency travel plan map, and those roads/trails highlighted in green on the interagency travel plan map.

County Commissioners Garth Haugland (Beaverhead County) and Ted Coffman (Madison County) briefly described the counties' road policies.  Both counties have considerable road miles to maintain. Beaverhead County has 1500 miles of county roads to maintain.  Neither county is likely to close any road because of impacts on sage grouse—would only close roads for public health and safety issues.  There are state laws that the counties must comply with for the maintenance, operation, and official closure of roads.

General Questions/Comments:

  • Increase fines for off-road use and for creating new roads!
  • OHV use has definitely increased over past 5-6 years; "Used to be, 15 years ago, there was none—now they're unloading in my driveway, sometimes 15-20 in a party—and it's happening 10 months out of the year."
  • Developing a game closure (like was done for elk)—is that a possibility?  FWP—not likely—too hard to create; too hard to enforce
  • Agencies are short on law-enforcement personnel
  • Is existing use causing a problem now for sage grouse?  Yes, on Reservoir Creek—it's not travel on existing roads that's causing the problem—it's the off-road travel by motorized use (pick-ups, OHVs, etc.)—it's impacting breeding and brood-rearing habitat.  Much of the problem is during hunting season.  Once the "roads" get created in the fall, then they get used in the spring as well.

Ideas:

  • Contact local pick-up, OHV, motorcycle dealers and provide educational materials - contact the manufacturers and ask them to change their marketing campaigns
  • Coordinate with the state for better enforcement—higher fines

Summary:

Tim Bozorth, BLM, noted that BLM is the agency with the public land in sage grouse habitat.  BLM is already doing the things listed as conservation actions. 

Participants agreed that the fundamental issue is how to really stop the creation of new roads, created illegally by recreationists.  All agreed that better information to the public would help, but that the agencies are too short-handed for enforcement personnel and until that is addressed, this will continue to be a problem.

Wrap-up and Upcoming Meetings

San Stiver, Wildlife Coordinator for the multi-state Sage Grouse Conservation Planning Framework Team that prepared the 600 page assessment submitted to FWS, has agreed to come present at the October meeting on harvest management (hunting) and predation.

Cossitt summarized comments, indicating that basic questions keep re-surfacing at each of the local working groups, including questions about what will be most effective in addressing sage grouse habitat and populations.  She suggested that the group consider a project and that as a group they evaluate existing conditions and monitor and evaluate change.  She asked participants to think about things they might want to try on their property.  Ideas can be submitted to her via email or phone (cossitt@usadig.com or 406-633-2213).  This will be discussed at the next meeting.

Participants

Dwight Ashcraft
Tim Bozorth
Ted Coffman
Ben Deeble
Craig Fager
Nate Finch
Bill Garrison
Randy Gazda
Dick Gosman
Jim Hagenbarth
Ross Hansen
Garth Haugland
Gilbert Little
Chuck Maddox
Sam Milodragovich
Dick Moore
Bruce Nelson
Reyer Rens
Art Rohrbacher
Steve Sherman
George Trischman
Rick Waldrup
Rich Wheeler