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Glasgow Meeting VII

NEXT MEETING DATE WILL BE MONDAY, MAY 23, 2005

Meeting Summary
Glasgow Sage Grouse Local Working Group
March 16, 2005

Summary prepared by Cossitt Consulting


Welcome/Introductions

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:

  • Chart the course of the local working group over the next year
  • Review and discuss effects of energy development and power lines on sage grouse
  • Get an update on the January decision by FWS not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act

Update from FWS

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:

  • PECE Criteria Evaluation Guide for Conservation Efforts. Hanebury reviewed 15 different criteria-9 for evaluating the certainty that the effort will be implemented, and 6 for evaluating the effectiveness of the effort.
  • Narrative for the Evaluation of Conservation Efforts in the "Management Plan and Conservation Strategies for Sage Grouse in Montana." Two of the 172 possible conservation actions in the state plan met PECE criteria-the Montana Sagebrush Initiative and Adaptive Harvest Management.
  • Conservation efforts determined to meet the standards of PECE. In their review of state and local action plans from the 11-state sage grouse habitat area, the FWS found 20 different projects that met PECE criteria. Hanebury indicated that these included projects as small as 40 acres and some quite large (e.g., the Montana Sagebrush Initiative).

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.

Energy Development and Power Lines

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.

Updates

  • National Sage Grouse Local Working Group meeting . Dave Pippin and Scott Cassel, who attended the meeting February 11-12 in Reno, shared some of their observations with the group. These included the need to keep these local efforts going, involving a wide variety of interests and working together to address and talk about the issues. Both indicated that participation at the meeting was very good-several hundred people. They also noted that landowners at the national meeting stressed the importance of hunting and predation in controlling impacts to sage grouse. A written meeting summary and other more detailed information are available at the Western Governors' Association (WGA) website. WGA was a sponsor of the national meeting. (Cossitt provided hard copies to participants.)
  • Montana Sage Grouse Group-statewide meeting in Lewistown, Februrary 22-23 . Randy Dirkson, Scott Cassel, and Maxine Korman attended a meeting in Lewistown of persons who had worked on the state plan. Key items at that meeting were updates from the various agencies, and how to move forward with next steps for local working groups. Recommendations from the meeting will go to a small committee of funding agencies who will meet in the next month or so. Cossitt indicated that this group would also be making a decision on allocation of funds saved from savings on the Cossitt Consulting team contract, some funds of which may be available for the three local working groups (Glasgow, Dillon, and Miles City.
  • Summary of Conservation Action Status . Cossitt had handouts of this document available for participants and described it as a brief review of actions toward implementing the Montana state plan. This work started as the "matrices" that were reviewed at each meeting. Cossitt indicated that it focuses primarily on what agencies are doing because of the difficulty in compiling what is being done at the private level. Participants can submit any suggested changes to Cossitt by April 11.
  • CCAA . Cossitt summarized the current status of the work FWP is doing to set up a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) program for sage grouse that would protect landowners in the event that sage grouse might be listed under the Endangered Species Act. In the current draft, participation by a landowner would require a 3-treatment grazing system. For more information, contact Rick Northrup at the FWP offices in Helena.

Action Plan

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:

  • Add predation and hunting to the list of key issues. There was some disagreement on this as some believed that these topics had been discussed and basically taken care of at the previous meeting in October. Others pointed out that if some are still concerned about it, it hasn't gone away and it should remain on the table.
  • In addition to an annual meeting, there should be efforts to provide a field trip and educational opportunities for the general public and others to tour a lek and land owners/managers to see land treatments in sage grouse habitat.

Co-Chairs

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.

Projects

  • Project Ideas from last meeting:
    • FWP sage grouse counts. Ongoing and currently funded.
    • Sage Grouse Population Study-Northern Valley-Phillips County. BLM has started this, funding approved, work to get going this season.
    • Evaluation of Selected Chizzle Plowing Techniques-Mark Sullivan (FWP-Malta) will be looking into getting this started
    • Annual Sage Grouse lek observation Tour - work is ongoing.
    • Annual Sage Grouse Habitat Field Tour-no work on this at current
    • Re-establishment of Sage Brush on Select "LU" or other parcels-no work on this at current time-i nitial research indicated cost of $42,605 per square mile for a 1% canopy cover
  • Project ideas from this meeting:
    • Obtain data and information from Wildlife Services (formerly Animal Damage Control). Research/study predator effects. (Maxine Korman had a write-up from the Wildlife Services staff person-Cossitt will type up and return to the co-chairs for distribution, upon approval of author)
    • Identify effects of grazing on sage grouse-specific data/research for this area
    • Evaluation/analysis of combined multiple variables over time on sage grouse populations. (Compile historical information on various factors, such as weather-precipitation, temperature, major weather events, predator types and prevalence over time at various locations, hunter harvest numbers, rancher/landowner observations, census information on land conversion, etc. and track against historical changes in sage grouse population numbers and location)

Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Monday, May 23 at 3:00 p.m.

Agenda items include:

  • Updates on sage grouse counts
  • Information on any changes for hunting
  • Project updates

Wrap-Up

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).

Participants

Rich Adams
Chuck Carlson
John Carlson
Scott Cassel
Diane Dirkson
Randy Dirkson
Meagan Gates
Daniel Gerike
Pat Gunderson
Lou Hanebury
Amy Hladek
Verlin Koenig
Maxine Korman
David Pippin
Fritz Prellwitz
Everett Russell
R. Stoneburg
Mark Sullivan