Summary prepared by Anne Cossitt, October 4, 2004
revised 10-8, 10-13-04
Anne Cossitt, Local Working Group Facilitator, welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda. Participants introduced themselves.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-633-2213). This will be discussed at the next meeting.