Next meeting date will be January 12, 2005
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.
Cossitt introduced San Stiver, guest speaker for this round of sage grouse local working group meetings. San is wildlife biologist for the sage grouse planning framework team that was established in 2000. As part of his work on that team, San participated in the preparation of the 600 page status report that was submitted to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the Spring of 2004. FWS is using this document in their status review. The document is available on the sage grouse website (see address above under "Updates).
San started with a power point presentation on the background of the sage grouse conservation actions taken by the western states. Some of the key points include:
Q: How much does bad winter weather affect sage grouse?
A: It is not documented as a major factor in overall mortality. Sage grouse survive winters better than other upland game birds.
Cossitt distributed the matrix of conservation actions related to predation issues. San Stiver provided a power point presentation on predation. Key points included:
Persons present agreed that current conditions didn't appear to warrant any new kind of predator control at the current time. Coyotes, gulls, raptors were all listed as predators in the area that prey on sage grouse.
Cossitt distributed the matrix of conservation actions related to harvest management issues. San Stiver provided a power point presentation. Key points included:
We need to be concerned about the areas with small bird populations. In places where bird populations may be small or threatened, we should be paying attention and perhaps limiting hunting in those areas.
Pat Gunderson provided some local-specific information on hunting and sage grouse populations. He confirmed that hunting in the past decade has resulted in much lower harvest rates than the 10% maximum allowable rates. Overall in northeastern Montana, trends in northeastern Montana indicate that sage grouse populations are healthy, with increasing numbers of males per lek between 1977 and 2003. Just over 1500 strutting males were counted in 2003. Populations do not appear affected by season length or bag limit.
Concern that there are 2 distinct sage grouse populations in northern Montana—those north of the Milk River and closer to Canada; and those south of the Milk River. It appears that those north of the Milk River may be in decline.
There was concern about the triggers to "adapt" harvest management per the state conservation plan based on the determination of genetic diversity or a population of less than 300. If the birds are in decline, that should be enough. Absolute numbers such as 300 can be difficult to determine.
Need to manage north part of county (and also the north part of the counties from Glasgow west to Havre) with an eye toward the vulnerability of those populations north of the Milk River.
San Stiver commented that the populations look good up here in northeastern Montana and if all stays the same (without new threats to habitat) shouldn't really be a problem. The key to the work to keep from having the birds be listed is identifying the negative trends and identifying ways to deal with them. But from what he's seen there isn't much of a negative trend (except possibly for north county).
Participants then discussed projects and how to continue this local working group.
Cossitt reminded the group that the facilitation provided by Cossitt Consulting will end after the next meeting. Local working groups need to identify how they will continue efforts. The group agreed on:
Informal approach—no formal committee membership, but two co-chairs would need to be identified. At least one of the co-chairs would be from the private sector.
Agencies will provide logistical support to the co-chairs (e.g., helping to set up meetings, send out notices, mailings, etc.)
Projects. Projects "on the table" as discussed by the group are:
Next meeting will be January 12, 2005. Topics to be discussed include:
David L. Pippin