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Glasgow Meeting II

Meeting Summary
Glasgow Sage Grouse Local Working Group
March 3, 2004

Welcome and Introductions

Purpose of the second round of local working group meetings was to continue the local working group effort and to provide some fundamental sage grouse information, recognizing that at the first meeting participants had widely differing levels of understanding about sage grouse and need for the state conservation effort.

Anne Cossitt, Cossitt Consulting, introduced herself and team members Charlie Eustace and Susan Bury. She briefly recapped information from the first meeting. (Note: for more detail on information from the first meeting, refer to the first meeting summary. Meeting summaries are available at the local working group website or by contacting Anne Cossitt-see last page of this meeting summary for website address and other contact information.) The Cossitt team is providing facilitation and other support for the local working group effort.

Meeting participants, numbering approximately 30 persons, then introduced themselves.

Anne Cossitt referred to a variety of handouts during the meeting. These included:

  • Materials from the last meeting, including the local working group charter, fact sheets, and meeting summary
  • Table of Contents and Glossary from the Draft State Plan. Since the plan is in the process of being finalized full copies have not yet been made. The Draft State Plan (as released last year) is available at the local working group website and upon request. (See Contact information on the last page of this summary.) Copies of the updated draft plan will be distributed to working group members as soon as it is available. No major substantive changes are anticipated in the process of finalizing the plan. Some questions raised at the first round of meetings in Dillon, Miles City and Glasgow indicated not all persons were familiar with sage grouse terminology, so the Glossary was copied and distributed as follow-up at this second round of meetings.
  • Agency commitments to the plan, excerpted from the draft state plan.
  • Update on actions being taken by all 11 states with sage grouse habitat
  • Section VI of the state plan as most recently updated (as noted above, the state plan is being finalized.) Section VI includes the "toolbox" of action strategies for sage grouse conservation.
  • Table 1-1 from the draft plan that identifies ecological units and sub-units. This was provided in response to a question raised at the first round of meetings, "Will some areas of the state be asked to make up habitat losses experienced in other parts of the state?" The plan indicates: "Maintain the current distribution of sage grouse in Montana within the two broad sagebrush ecological types and their subunits."

Sage Grouse Biology

Team member Charlie Eustace, a wildlife biologist with more than 30 years of experience in game bird biology in Montana, presented information about what is known about the sage grouse. He noted that sagebrush habitat, which the grouse requires for survival and reproduction, has diminished throughout the species' 11-state range. Over the past century, Montana's sage grouse population has fluctuated with conditions and is now trending downward.

Eustace then reviewed the species' survival and reproductive needs over the course of the four seasons, and he presented statistics on lek numbers, numbers of birds harvested, and more. (Note: Full information from the presentation will be incorporated into a project fact sheet.)

Sage Grouse Populations in the Region

Pat Gunderson, regional biologist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, reviewed with is known about sage grouse numbers in the area from ground and aerial surveys, and he discussed some of the logistical challenges of counting grouse.

He noted that this year's severe winter may have driven grouse south toward the Missouri Breaks, and the ultimate impact on local populations remains to be seen. While sage grouse numbers are generally good in the area, the hunter harvest is declining, apparently because of declining hunter interest in sage grouse. Hunter harvest does not appear to be detrimental to sage grouse production.

Gunderson answered a number of questions during his presentation:

  • If there are more birds now than in the 1970s, why the pressure to list them as endangered? Sage grouse are doing well in this area but not throughout the 11-state rangewide area, and what happens rangewide will affect Montana.
  • Why hunt sage grouse if they're endangered? They are not federally listed as endangered, but efforts are needed to keep them from being listed. Gunderson expressed the view that having hunters interested in sage grouse will help bring support to grouse conservation, which will help forestall listing.
  • Is it still true that sage grouse will be listed across the whole range or just specific populations? Gunderson explained that the Gunnison sage grouse is already federally protected throughout its range. Efforts to list eastern and western subspecies of sage grouse have failed -- such listings would have been beneficial to Montana, because our populations are relatively large and would have been considered separately. The greatest threat to sage grouse occurs in the Great Basin states.
  • Were sage grouse found during a recent wintering study in north Valley County? The researcher had difficulty getting to the study sites, but some grouse were found, and additional numbers were spotted during aerial counts. More work needs to be done.
  • What about bull snakes taking grouse? Researcher Brendan Moynihan is completing a study in Phillips County that will address predation of grouse nests by snakes and other predator species.
  • Are the causes of habitat loss identified? The questioner noted that outside of Denver, for example, habitat is lost to development, and there are limits to what can be done about that. Eustace responded that developers and home buyers are more likely to build on hillsides than on sagebrush flats, at least for now. It was noted that there is much more development around Dillon than in the Glasgow area.

Group Communication and Process

Susan Bury invited group members to offer suggestions about communications tools for the project and asked for their opinions about the existing website, a proposed newsletter, and additional fact sheets. The group members who had accessed the project website offered suggestions for improving the function of the site, including making downloads faster and explaining more clearly what's included in the Project Library. Bury asked people to think about community locations (post office, cafes, etc.) where the newsletter could be distributed, and she invited people to volunteer to help with distribution.

Cossitt presented some considerations for local working group process, including:

  • Recognition that these meetings are open, public meetings
  • Meeting summaries are intended to provide an overview so people who weren't at the meeting can understand generally what transpired at the meetings; the meeting summaries are not intended as transcripts. If you find errors in the meeting summaries, please contact Anne Cossitt.
  • Ground rules for group process
  • Participation and Decision-making. Types of decision-making depend on the complexity of the decision. The facilitators will recommend methods for decision-making at appropriate points in upcoming meetings.

Cossitt said the group will move into the substance of the state plan in the upcoming meetings, including looking into possible sources for project funding. A group member suggested asking a representative from the conservation district to make a presentation on Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) funding. A group member suggested reviewing what's happening "on the ground" in sage grouse management and monitoring before starting a discussion of the conservation actions proposed in the state plan.

Cossitt then asked group members to look at maps on display in the meeting room, which showed buffered locations of identified leks. The group spent about 30 minutes in small groups, examining the maps and discussing where birds and leks are found or talking about other aspects of the project. A group member indicated that the grazing district had just located historical maps of vegetation that may be of use to the local working group.

Final Comments

The group set its next meeting date as April 20 or 21, depending on the availability of a suitable meeting site, and the following meeting as June 16 or 23. Anne Cossitt will send out a meeting notice as soon as possible.

Group members wanted to know more specifically what would take place at the next meeting and requested time to prepare. Cossitt will send an agenda well in advance of the meeting.

One group member asked if there are data on the impact of managed grazing versus eliminating grazing; it was noted that Brendan Moynihan's study will shed light on this question.

PARTICIPANTS

Rich Adams
John Arnold
Leo Barthelmess
Jack Billingsley
Troy Blunt
Don Burke
Julie Burke
Chuck Carlson
John Carlson
Lee Cornwell
Paul Cornwell
Diane Dirkson
Randy Dirkson
Sever Enkerud
John Fahlgren
Thomas (Fisher?)
Bill French
Daniel A. Gerike
Pat Gunderson
Tammy James
Verlin Koenig
Maxine Korman
Vicki Olsen
Dave Pippin
Fritz Prellwitz
Dave Reinhardt
Paul Schuper
Larry See

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Visit the Local Working Group website at:

http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/sageGrouse/workingGroups/default.html

Contact Anne Cossitt at cossitt@usadig.com, (406) 633-2213, or by mail at 503 Fifth Avenue NW, Park City, MT 59063.