Purpose of the second round of local working group meetings was to continue the local working group effort and to provide some fundamental sage grouse information, recognizing that at the first meeting participants had widely differing levels of understanding about sage grouse and need for the state conservation effort.
Anne Cossitt, Cossitt Consulting, introduced herself and team members Charlie Eustace and Susan Bury. She briefly recapped information from the first meeting. (Note: for more detail on information from the first meeting, refer to the first meeting summary. Meeting summaries are available at the local working group website or by contacting Anne Cossitt-see last page of this meeting summary for website address and other contact information.) The Cossitt team is providing facilitation and other support for the local working group effort.
Meeting participants, numbering approximately 30 persons, then introduced themselves.
Anne Cossitt referred to a variety of handouts during the meeting. These included:
Team member Charlie Eustace, a game bird biologist, with more than 30 years of experience in game bird biology in Montana, presented information about what is known about the sage grouse. He noted that sagebrush habitat, which the grouse requires for survival and reproduction, has diminished throughout the species' 11-state range. Over the past century, Montana's sage grouse population has fluctuated with conditions and is now trending downward.
Eustace then reviewed the species' survival and reproductive needs over the course of the four seasons, and he presented statistics on lek numbers, numbers of birds harvested, and more.
Full information from the presentation will be incorporated into a project fact sheet.
Eustace responded to several questions from the group:
John Ensign, FWP wildlife biologist in southeast Montana, presented information about the grouse in this region, from the Big Horn and Musselshell rivers east to the Dakota border, and from the Missouri Breaks south to the Wyoming border. In general, "the birds seem to be holding their own." In this region, he said, more than 80 percent of land is still native range.
Ensign explained that FWP conducts lek surveys, harvest surveys, and winter surveys (the birds tend to concentrate in smaller areas during winter, so they are easier to count). Surveys have increased since the mid-1990s, when concern about the sage grouse arose. Comprehensive winter surveys were conducted in 2002 and 2003, after significant snows concentrated the birds. Ensign gave a conservative estimate of the total number of sage grouse in Montana as 100,000. He said additional research and surveys are underway to better quantify the populations and understand population dynamics.
Ensign responded to questions from the group:
Susan Bury invited group members to offer suggestions about communications tools for the project and asked for their opinions about the existing website, a proposed newsletter, and additional fact sheets. Several group members noted that many people do not have access to the web and will need to receive information in hard copy. One member advocated getting project information out to the larger community -- the "80 percent in the middle," who do not have strong opinions about sage grouse but who should be informed about the project. Bury asked people to think about community locations (post office, cafes, etc.) where the newsletter could be distributed, and she invited people to volunteer to help with distribution.
Cossitt presented some considerations for local working group process, including:
When the group reconvened, these comments were made by group members:
In response to some area-specific questions, John Ensign noted:
In response to Cossitt's request for feedback about the effectiveness of the meetings, group members requested that maps be produced with more clear points of reference and that meetings include more time for comments and questions. For its next meeting dates, the group selected Monday, April 26, and Monday, June 14, at the same location.
Cossitt concluded the meeting by asking the group members to read the "toolbox" of conservation actions from the statewide plan in time to discuss these at the next meeting, and she asked members to think about where the group should go on a field trip.
Contact Anne Cossitt at firstname.lastname@example.org, (406) (406) 633-2213, or by mail at 503 Fifth
Avenue NW, Park City, MT 59063.