(Summary revised May 24, 2004 to reflect comments from participants)
NOTE: NEXT MEETING IS SCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16 AT 3:00.
A FIELD TRIP TO VIEW AND DISCUSS SAGE GROUSE HABITATS is scheduled for the morning. Meet in the Cottonwood Inn Parking Lot at 10:00—Depart at 10:15 a.m. RSVP for a sack lunch to Anne Cossitt (406) 633-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Cossitt welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda, which included developing local strategies for weeds and fire management for the Glasgow area.
Anne Cossitt reviewed information from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service news release. The Service announced its "90 day finding" on April 15, after completing an evaluation of three petitions to list the greater sage-grouse range wide as either threatened or endangered. The Service determined that the petitions and other available information provide substantial biological information indicating that further review of the status of the species is warranted.
Based on the status review, the Service will make one of three possible determinations by end of December 2004 or early 2005:
Suggested Action Item: The group suggested that the Local Working Group submit a comment letter to FWS by their June 21, 2004 deadline. The comment letter would indicate that the Glasgow Local Working Group is moving forward and also include a summary of work to date.
Follow-up: Anne Cossitt will draft the letter for the Glasgow Local Working Group.
Cossitt briefly reviewed the description of the noxious weed issues related to sage grouse habitat (which begins on page 62 of the draft plan issued March 2004). The group was then asked to review conservation actions for noxious weeds (beginning on page 63 of the draft plan). Participants were asked to work in small groups to answer four questions for each conservation action:
Participants were also asked to identify resources to answer any questions they couldn't address (e.g., information sources, etc.)
The status of weeds was discussed with the following points identified:
The national wildlife refuge has weed problems—they are also a land manager of major land tracts in the area. It was requested that CMR send a representative to these local working group meetings.
Follow-up: Cossitt will make the request to CMR to send a representative(s) to these local working group meetings.
Participants' recommendations on conservation actions in the draft state plan for noxious weeds are as follows:
Goal 1: Conservation Action #1. Inventory and map existing noxious weed populations within and adjacent to occupied sage grouse habitat or suspected range.
Recommendation: There is already a fair amount of mapped data. Phillips, McCone, and Valley counties are pretty well mapped already for noxious weeds. The group would like to see the following map layers prepared and pulled together:
a) weed district maps
b) FWP habitat data
c) Any data from federal Fish and Wildlife Service
Goal 2: Conservation Action # 1. Develop habitat-specific weed management plans for known sage grouse ranges, using the inventory and map information developed in the action described above.
Recommendation: There are many existing plans. There should be better coordination and information sharing among these plans, which include (but are not necessarily limited to):
Goal 3: Conservation Action #1. Promote measures that prevent the introduction and spread of weed seeds and other reproducing plant parts. (Not addressed)
Goal 4: Prevent the initial establishment of weeds within or on lands surrounding sage grouse habitat. (8 conservation actions)
Recommendations and Comments:
Goal 5: Ensure that land managers and users (general public) are educated about the threat noxious weeds pose to native plant communities and work together to find appropriate management solutions. (7 conservation actions)
Recommendations and Comments:
Goal 6: Minimize effects of weed control treatments on non-target organisms. (3 conservation actions)
Recommendations and Comments: There are already a number of methods that can be (and are being used) including bio-control. Group participants mentioned that there appears to be some reticence to use sheep to control weeds on federal lands because they can compete for the same forage as mule deer.
Goal 7: Provide the necessary funding mechanisms and dedicated labor to act immediately when new infestations are identified within sage grouse habitat. (3 conservation actions)
Recommendations: The agencies are being as responsive as they can, but they need more funding to accomplish the task.
Group participants indicated that prescribed fire is not common in the Glasgow area. It is typically used to improve livestock grazing range or wildlife habitat. Some ranchers use prescribed fire and participants indicated that the federal FWS is considering use of fire on the Silver Dollar Grazing Allotment.
Wildfire can be a problem, and some participants reminded people of the big fire that swept across the CMR and surrounding area a few years ago (and indicated that this is something that the Dept. of Interior is still working to address with preventive or other measures). However in general, wildfire is a different kind of problem than it is in the heavily timbered areas of the state (e.g., western Montana).
In small group work, participants addressed the same set of four questions as for noxious weeds:
Participants' recommendations on conservation actions in the draft state plan for fire management are as follows:
Goal 1: Manage prescribed fire in sagebrush habitats to result in no long-term net loss.
Recommendations/Comments: Ranchers need to break up club moss for better range. There should be some research on the effects of methods other than fire to create better range, and participants wondered if some of this research had already been conducted. Some private landowners use chizzle plowing as a preferred method of improving livestock range in sage brush habitat.
Participants agreed there should be discussion between agencies and permittees about methods to improve range, i.e., plowing, prescribed fire, dealing with club moss, perhaps using/sharing " Lawson Range Renovator" equipment. Participants indicated that controls on federal land have the potential to shift impacts to good sage grouse habitat on private land.
Goal 2: Manage wildfire in sagebrush habitats to result in no long-term net loss.
Comments and Recommendations: Over the past few years the federal fire-fighting equipment has become more and more centralized—mostly at the Zortman-Landusky mine area. The result is that in areas remote from the central equipment location, there are longer time periods between notice of fire and equipment response. Often the first responder to wildfire is a private landowner or landowners, often the persons least equipped and least trained to deal with wildfire. The counties should request better coordination among local, private, state and federal responders.
Sagebrush Initiative and Other MT FWP Habitat Programs
Rick Northrup presented a slide show about Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MT FWP) programs that could benefit sage brush habitat for sage grouse. He gave some background on current sage grouse habitat conditions in Montana, indicating that most of the remaining habitat in Montana is primarily rangeland, and that nearly 50% of the remaining habitat in Montana is in private ownership.
Funding projects is based on priority, which is primarily factored by considering importance of the area to sage grouse and type and use of land. Highest priority areas are based on:
Other FWP habitat programs include the Upland Game Bird Habitat Enhancement Program (UGBHEP), which helps develops rest rotation grazing systems by providing cost share, and the Habitat Montana Program, which helps purchase conservation easements.
Rick encouraged anyone who was interested in these programs to contact him or local FWP staff people.
Cossitt asked the group if they had any suggestions for making the upcoming meetings more productive or useful.
Participants requested maps with the following layers:
Follow-up: Cossitt will work with FWP,BLM, and other agencies on creating these layers. BLM representative John Carlson indicated BLM could probably create the maps.