NEXT MEETING DATE WILL BE MONDAY, MAY 23, 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. Purpose of the meeting was to:
Lou Hanebury, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist from Billings, presented on the FWS decision not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. He reviewed the process and criteria used to make the decision.
The decision that the listing was not warranted was based on current population trends, the extent of sagebrush habitats, the size of five "core" populations, and the determination that the risk of extinction was not likely in less than 100 years. The FWS determined that the species and sagebrush ecosystem are at risk, but the status of the species, and the risks identified did not meet the definition of threatened at this time. Hanebury clarified that it was a close and difficult decision. The FWS will continue to watch the status of the species and the ecosystem closely and can revisit the decision if new information suggests threats are increasing or if populations and habitat continue to decline.
Hanebury also reviewed the Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts (PECE), used to determine the effectiveness of the various state plans and the implementation of those plans. Hanebury provided several related handouts:
Hanebury reviewed the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) program. These agreements, entered into prior to the listing of a species, provide assurances to landowners who are already taking actions to conserve the species that, if the species were to become listed, the landowners would not be penalized if population numbers decreased. The CCAA program is already underway in Montana, with the recently approved CCAA for Westslope Cutthroat Trout. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is working with NRCS and FWS to develop a CCAA program for sage grouse. (For more information on this effort, contact Rick Northrup at FWP in Helena.)
Hanebury closed his presentation by informing the group that new funding to protect sage grouse habitat was recently approved by FWS. Funds will be available from the High Plains Partnership - Partners for Fish and Wildlife. Hanebury had several handouts on the Partnership programs.
Cossitt referred the group to four handout maps from the habitat-wide status report submitted to FWS by Connelly et. al. that showed 1) current producing gas wells, 2) permitted or pending oil wells, 3) density of primary natural gas and oil pipelines, 4) powerline corridors. She also briefly reviewed the goals and conservation actions for energy development and power lines in the Montana state plan.
Fritz Prellwitz, BLM, gave a power point presentation on gas development in Phillips and Valley counties, which has expanded considerably in the past few months. Generally speaking, spacing is about 4 per section, but it can get as high as 8 per section. BLM manages federal minerals and has guidelines for reducing impacts to sage grouse (and other species). These impacts can include disturbance from construction, noise, infrastructure development, and increased human activity. The BLM is working to following the guidelines in the Montana state plan and the BLM's national strategy for sage grouse conservation. This includes among other things, "no surface occupancy" within a specific distance of a lek, and some seasonal restrictions (no activity within a specific distance during key breeding and brooding seasons).
John Carlson, BLM, discussed the proposed development of a 500 megawatt wind generation facility northwest of Glasgow. At full development there will be 300 wind generators and up to two power lines. Biggest potential issue is collision from birds flying into the blades, but sage grouse don't typically fly high enough for that to be a major issue for sage grouse. In addition there isn't much sage grouse habitat in the area proposed for wind generation. There is however habitat in the area of the first power line, which will be approximately 30 miles long. The power lines may be going through some intact habitat and if they do, there will be some habitat fragmentation-s maller and smaller intact areas for sage grouse. Recent studies suggest that prairie species tend to avoid tall structures leading to effective habitat loss in areas with tall structures. A study of prairie grouse in Kansas showed that the birds had diminished attendance at leks within 3 miles of the power line.
Cossitt reviewed the Draft Action Plan for the Glasgow Local Working Group. The group agreed that it generally worked as a starting document, recognizing that they could change it later if warranted. The following changes will be made to the document based on discussion at the meeting:
Maxine Korman and John Carlson were elected co-chairs for the group. Anne Cossitt presented them each with a co-chair handbook.
The group authorized co-chairs to write letters of support for projects between meetings.
The next meeting was scheduled for Monday, May 23 at 3:00 p.m.
Agenda items include:
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 (extra hats given to co-chairs to give to persons who've consistently attended meetings in the past but who were not at the March 21 meeting).