NEXT MEETING IS MAY 18, 3:00 P.M.
Summary prepared by Cossitt Consulting
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!