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Dillon Meeting VIII

NEXT MEETING IS MAY 18, 3:00 P.M.

Meeting Summary
Dillon Sage Grouse Local Working Group
March 23, 2005

Summary prepared by Cossitt Consulting

Welcome/Introductions

Anne Cossitt, Local Working Group Facilitator, welcomed the group, reviewed the agenda, and the overall goals of the conservation plan and local working group effort. Purpose of the meeting was to:

  • Chart the course of the local working group over the next year
  • Review and discuss effects of prescribed fire and wildfire and on sage grouse and related conservation actions in the state plan

Updates

  • National Sage Grouse Local Working Group meeting-February 11-12, Reno, NV. A written meeting summary and other more detailed information are available at the Western Governors' Association (WGA) website. WGA was a sponsor of the national meeting. (Cossitt provided hard copies to participants.) Ben Deeble, who attended the meeting, indicated that participation at the meeting was very good—several hundred people and that interest levels were high.
  • Montana Sage Grouse Group—statewide meeting in Lewistown, February 22-23 . Craig Fager, Ben Deeble, and Bob Brannon attended a meeting in Lewistown of persons who had worked on the state plan. Key items at that meeting were updates from the various agencies, and how to move forward with next steps for local working groups. Recommendations from the meeting will go to a small committee of funding agencies who will meet in the next month or so. Cossitt indicated that this group would also be making a decision on allocation of funds saved from savings on the Cossitt Consulting team contract, some funds of which may be available for the three local working groups (Glasgow, Dillon, and Miles City.
  • Summary of Conservation Action Status . Cossitt had handouts of this document available for participants and described it as a brief review of actions toward implementing the Montana state plan. This work started as the “matrices” that were reviewed at each meeting. Cossitt indicated that it focuses primarily on what agencies are doing because of the difficulty in compiling what is being done at the private level. Participants can submit any suggested changes to Cossitt by April 11.
  • CCAA . The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) that Rick Northrup described at the last meeting, is still coming along and is not yet ready for review. For more information, contact Rick Northrup at the FWP offices in Helena.
  • Local Updates .
    • Sage Grouse Populations and Habitat Use . Colleen Wisinski, graduate student working with the BLM, gave a brief update of the work to characterize habitat use by sage grouse in the area. Most of the work that Colleen is doing is west of Dillon (including Centennial Basin). They are doing spotlighting counts, and plan to place radios on 20 additional sage grouse by this summer. Most of the tracking work that they do is related to summer habitat.
    • Sage Grouse Counts and Status in Big Hole Basin . Craig Fager indicated that they hoped to be able to get some good baseline data on sage grouse in the Wisdom area. The goal would be to radio 10 sage grouse to obtain data on nesting, brood-rearing, and winter habitat use. Funding is an issue and they are hoping to get started in 2006.
    • Power Line Placement . Sam Milodragovich talked about how Northwest Energy was working with Kelly Bockting with BLM and others to reroute a power line out by Bannack. They were working to follow the guidelines set out in the state plan. He noted that the location falls between two non-active leks, and that they were working to avoid collision for sage grouse and to avoid creating perches for raptors.
    • Lek Counts . Ben Deeble indicated that volunteers would start on lek counts under the “Adopt a Lek” program at the end of March. The goal is to get three good counts on each lek. “What is a good count?” asked one participant, and Ben responded that a good count is a count that is made when attendance at the lek is high—when the weather is clear, calm, and there is little threat of predators. “Bad” counts are counts with low attendance because of stormy weather, wind, or other reasons.

Fire Management

Brad Gillespie, USFS; Paul Lenmark, BLM; and John Huston, DNRC gave a presentation on fire management in relation to the main issues and conservation actions in the state plan. The state plan differentiates between prescribed fire and wildfire management.

Prescribed fire as a management tool in the Dillon area would be used primarily for two purposes—encouraging understory growth and impeding conifer encroachment of sage brush habitat. The presenters noted that use of fire had been a significant tool for controlling sage brush in the past (as had also other means such as spike and other herbicides). The federal agencies (BLM and Forest Service) had used fire extensively on public lands, but in the past few decades this has pretty much stopped. The Forest Service has a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks whereby the two agencies consult prior to any controlled sage brush burn on lands managed by the national forest service. BLM now generally has prescribed burns on small areas and no prescribed burns in lek or brood habitat.

Both agencies work to burn sage brush so that it creates patches (mosaics) of burned areas rather than whole scale-wide spread total burns. Any controlled burn would undergo analysis of effects prior to the burn (as prescribed by the National Environmental Policy Act- NEPA).

Pat Fosse noted that for purposes of improving understory for livestock (and other animals), it is important to catch the sagebrush at just the right threshold. If the sagebrush is so dense that there is very little or no current undergrowth, then if you burn to eradicate the sagebrush, you will likely get weeds after the burn rather than good forage.

The group discussed the rapidity with which cheatgrass fires can get out of control. Although the infestations of cheatgrass are greatest in Nevada, participants points out that they could see it coming in the Dillon area.

There was general discussion about how sage brush habitat would recover even with a mosaic type approach and how it would affect use by sage grouse. Jim Hagenbarth indicated that the Dubois Experiment Station in Idaho had been collecting data on effect of burns since the 1920s.

For wildfire, the highest priorities are human life and safety, and community and structure protection. On large wildfires, agencies work together with resource teams to consider protection of other resources, such as sage grouse habitat. Brad Gillespie pointed out that sometimes the fire incident commander can be from a totally different part of the United States and may not be familiar with local issues, such as sage grouse. Heavy equipment used to build fire lines can have an impact on sage grouse habitat and should be considered in recovery programs. After a fire, agencies put together a burned area recovery plan that addresses rehabilitation of burned or disturbed areas.

Action Plan

Cossitt reviewed the Draft Action Plan for the Dillon Local Working Group. The group agreed that it generally worked as a starting document with the following changes, recognizing that they could change it later if warranted. Changes that should be made include:

  • Mission statement. Add the words, “including continued livestock grazing” at the end of the mission statement sentence.
  • Take out the second paragraph on page 5 (under “General Description of Habitat.” Take out all or change as necessary all other references to the Miles City area, which were inadvertently left in this draft.
  • Key issues.
    • The group agreed that the 5 issues identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (on page 7 of the Draft Action Plan) are indeed issues for the Dillon area.
    • Include the following issues in the list—cumulative effects of increased recreation activity, predation, potential threats from subdivision (increasing use of rural land for residential purposes), noxious weeds, and conifer expansion.
    • Delete bulleted issue “Increased energy development and related infrastructure)
    • Delete reference to club moss.
  • Meetings. The group agreed that there should be more than one annual meeting. Meetings should be scheduled for the spring and fall and should also include some sort of field day(s), either as part of those meetings or at some other time.

Projects

At the last meeting the group reviewed some potential projects and placed the highest priority on Habitat Characterization and second priority on weed control.

The “Habitat Characterization” project is already underway on BLM-managed land west of Dillon, as indicated from the update from Colleen Wisinski. Craig Fager that baseline information for the Wisdom area sage grouse populations is needed and would be a good project (to start in 2006). No one suggested any other areas at this time. Sam Milodragovich said that Northwest Energy would offer to buy radio transmitters for projects such as this.

Although no decision was made on a specific weed project, the group confirmed that weeds in sage brush habitat was an issue in the Dillon area. Specific areas included Rochester Basin.

Cossitt indicated that the role of the local working group could be varied in terms of local projects. The local working group could be a participant in projects, provide other support (such as letters of support for projects outside of the group), and provide direction or support to agencies on agency projects or efforts.

Jim Hagenbarth distributed copies of registration forms for the Dubois Grouse Days, encouraged people to attend. The group discussed how this could be something that the Dillon group could also do.

The group also discussed support for the local working group. Some kind of staff assistance is needed to get projects underway and to provide the administrative support needed to actually have a “Dillon Grouse Days.” The group agreed that the co-chairs should send a letter to the state “executive” group that would be meeting to discuss next steps/funding for a statewide sage grouse coordinator and local working groups. The letter should state that the Dillon Local Working Group would like to have a coordinator that can provide staff assistance to the group. The letter should also be sent to the state and federal agencies involved, the national congressional delegation, and local representation to the state legislature.

The group also authorized the co-chairs to provide letters of support for projects that may come from outside of the group and between group meetings that advance the state sage grouse conservation plan.

Meetings

The next meeting was scheduled for May 18 at 3:00 p.m. (Cossitt to work to find location). Agenda items for the meeting will include:

  • Update on most recent information from spring lek counts
  • Information on upcoming hunting season
  • Reports from the Dubois Grouse Days from local folks who attended
  • Presentation from staff of the Dubois Experiment Station (to discuss sage brush ecology-fires)
  • How to best share information on the various habitat studies in the Dillon area and other areas in Idaho where the birds migrate
  • Update on Colleen Wisinski's research work to date
  • Other project updates
  • “Executive Committee” to provide support to co-chairs between meetings (at the March 23 meeting, participants generally felt this was a good idea but that there weren't enough people present when this was discussed to actually set up an executive committee)
  • Funding for the local working group and local projects
  • Field Trip for the Dillon area
  • Agenda/Date for the Fall meeting

Wrap-Up

Cossitt presented the co-chairs with co-chair handbooks.

Cossitt commended the participants for their hard work and dedication over the past 15 months and wished them luck in the next year. As a thank you, she gave participants caps with the Montana Sage Grouse Local Working Group logo.

Thanks to all!

Participants

Vanna Boccadori
Kelly Bockting
Ted Coffman
Ben Deeble
Craig Fager
Ron Fick
Pat Fosse
Jay Frederick
Brad Gillespie
Jim Hagenbarth
Garth Haugland
John Huston
Paul Lenmark
Chuck Maddox
Sam Milodragovich
Dick Moore
Reyer Rens
Brian Thrift
George Trischman
Swede Troedsson
Colleen Wisinski