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Glasgow Meeting III

Meeting Summary
Glasgow Sage Grouse Local Working Group
April 19, 2004

(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 cossitt@usadig.com.

Welcome/Introduction

Anne Cossitt welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda, which included developing local strategies for weeds and fire management for the Glasgow area.

"Listing" Update

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:

  • Listing is not warranted - in which case no further action will be taken.
  • Listing as threatened or endangered is warranted. In this case, the Service will publish a proposal to list. Generally, there is a one-year period between the time a species is proposed and the final decision.
  • Listing is warranted but precluded by other, higher priority activities. This means the species is added to the Federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred while the Service works on listing proposals for other species that are at greater risk. A warranted but precluded finding requires subsequent annual reviews of the finding until such time as either a listing proposal is published, or a not warranted finding is made based on new information.

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.

Noxious Weed Management

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:

  1. What is already being done?
  2. Who or what agencies would be involved in taking the action?
  3. What would be the timeframe for the action (When would it start? When would it be completed? Or would it be ongoing?)
  4. What resources would be needed to accomplish the 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:

  • There are some scattered locations of knapweed.
  • Leafy spurge is more of a problem.
  • Salt cedar (tamarisk) is becoming more of a problem.
  • Club moss was identified as a weed that can pose serious competition for good grasses and range in sage brush areas.

Other comments:

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):

  • Agency plans
  • Grazing District plans
  • County weed plans

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:

  • Focus should be on containing existing infestations of noxious weeds—they are fairly well isolated and not extensive in sage brush habitat. There is some leafy spurge in brooding areas.
  • Group felt that landowners were already doing a number of these things, such as using weed seed-free livestock forage and mulch; isolating livestock from known infestations. Agencies already have some requirements for washing vehicles. There doesn't seem to be any good, reasonable mechanism to enforce on the general public provisions to wash vehicles. There are lists available of where to purchase weed seed-free hay.
  • Participants expressed concern that the federal FWS did not appear to have an aggressive (or effective enough) weed management program on the CMR.

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:

  • Already being done: There is an annual "weed tour" sponsored by Valley County open to any participant from any county (will be held June 24 this year).
  • Start a coordinated training fro agencies, BLM crews, wardens, temps, county road crews, etc.
  • Use the Conservation District school "field days" to provide basic education on weeds and sage grouse habitat to school children. Both Valley and Phillips County have these field days.
  • Follow up: Chuck Carlson and Rick Northrup will work with the conservation districts and plan to have some information for field day use by the May 13, 2004 field day in Valley County.

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.

Fire Management

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:

  • What is already being done?
  • Who or what agencies would be involved in taking the action?
  • What would be the timeframe for the action (When would it start? When would it be completed? Or would it be ongoing?)
  • What resources would be needed to accomplish the action?

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.

The Sagebrush Initiative, developed by MT FWP, is based on the following key components:

  • Voluntary sagebrush lease agreement program (private land).
  • Protect sagebrush-grasslands from:
    • Herbicides
    • Prescribed fire
    • Plowing
    • Sagebrush manipulation activities
  • One-time payment of $12/acre ($7680/square mile)
  • 30-year term recorded agreement
  • No grazing restrictions

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:

  • Core and Peripheral habitats
  • High sage grouse densities
  • Less than 61% federal land
  • Less than 35% cropped

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.

Wrap-up

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:

  • Landownership \
  • Sagebrush habitat
  • Weeds
  • AMPs
  • Leks

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.

Participants

John Arnold
Leo Barthelmess
Don Burke
Chuck Carlson
John Carlson
Lee Cornwell
Darlyne Dascher
Diane Dirkson
Randy Dirkson
Samar Fay
Daniel Gerike
Pat Gunderson
Rick Northrup
Vicki Olson
Steven Page
Randy Phellen
Dave Pippin
Rick Stelflug