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Miles City Meeting III

Meeting Summary

Miles City Sage Grouse Local Working Group

April 26, 2004

Welcome/Introduction

Anne Cossitt welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda, which included developing local strategies for weeds and power lines/generation facilities.

"Listing" Update

Lou Hanebury of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) provided an overview of the process for listing species under the Endangered Species Act. On April 21, 2004, FWS announced its "90 day finding" 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:

  1. Listing is not warranted - in which case no further action will be taken.
  2. 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.
  3. Listing is warranted but precluded. This means the species is added to the federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred. 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.

Questions/comments from participants included:

  • What are the FWS wildlife refuges in Montana doing to address the concerns about listing? Would they provide good prototypes for the local working groups to follow?
  • Have any other states yet submitted their plans to FWS and have they been reviewed by PECE compliance?
  • It's unfair to have us in Montana and Wyoming included in the listing with all of the other states where the problems are much worse.

Follow-up: Lou Hanebury said he would follow up on the questions raised.

The deadline for new information on the status review is June 21. (Note: it was suggested at other local working group meetings in Dillon and Glasgow that the local working groups provide FWS with a status report of their work.)

Follow-up: Anne Cossitt will draft a status update to send to FWS on behalf of the Miles City 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 would take the actions (what would landowners do? Agencies? Others?)
    What would be the timeframe for the action (When would it start? When would it be completed? Or would it be ongoing?)
  3. What resources would be needed to accomplish the action?
  4. Participants were also asked to identify resources to answer any questions they couldn't address (e.g., information sources, etc.)

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. Work being done by BLM, counties, state agencies, and coal and energy companies should be compiled. The Montana Natural Resource Information Systems (NRIS) already houses much of this information. Jim Larsen (NRIS) in Columbus, Montana would be a good contact for this.

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: It would be good to have some additional information on when is the best time to treat weeds (best time for sage grouse concerns). Need to identify what may be toxic to sage grouse and/or sage brush.

Goal 3: Conservation Action #1. Promote measures that prevent the introduction and spread of weed seeds and other reproducing plant parts.

·Recommendation: County weed boards and the weed "Trust Fund" are already involved in this effort. Landowners can identify problem areas. Agencies can provide land management area expertise and perhaps some funding to help address weeds. Overall, money is needed to address this problem, but funding is difficult to come by. It would be good to develop a priority list of problem weeds for sage grouse habitat. The effort would need to be ongoing.

Goal 4: Prevent the initial establishment of weeds within or on lands surrounding sage grouse habitat. (8 conservation actions)

Recommendations:

  • Conservation Action 1: Best way to deal with this is to provide more education, which could include public relations, advertisements, calendars—and get the existing information better circulated.
  • Conservation Action 2: The MT Department of Agriculture already has a website that lists suppliers of weed seed-free forage and mulch.
  • Conservation Action 3: Energy companies are already doing this. Provide more information and education. FWP offers free car washes in hunting season in certain locations.
  • Conservation Actions 4-8: Providing more education and disseminating information is critical. The BLM and USFS are developing road management plans and should consider effects on sage grouse habitat in these plans.

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:

  • Conservation Actions 1,2,3,4,6,7: Already in place via the state weed plan, Montana Weed Control Association, and the Trust fund from vehicle license fees. Recommend that data collection be standardized and better information sharing and coordination among entities collecting data.
  • Conservation Action 5 (Monitoring and follow-up procedures) Needs to be improved. Need money and more personnel. The mining industry is regulated and has legal responsibilities for monitoring. Mining industry is experienced and provides a good example. Documentation of monitoring and follow-up throughout the area (not just on mining properties) will take continued involvement of all parties. Carla Hoopes at MSU was identified as a good resource for noxious weed education and awareness program.

Goal 6: Minimize effects of weed control treatments on non-target organisms.

Recommendations: Weeds are relatively contained in this part of Montana. Need for integrated weed management. Special areas of concern include riparian areas. Need to stop new infestations before they get out of hand. Landowners are/can be the first line of defense with spraying and other controls. Agencies can provide resources. Resources could include cost-sharing (sharing equipment) and research into better, safer products.

Goal 7: Provide the necessary funding mechanisms and dedicated labor to act immediately when new infestations are identified within sage grouse habitat.

Recommendations: Weeds are not a major problem in sagebrush areas, however the list of weeds for landowners to identify is likely to increase. Agencies, including FWP should provide weed control incentives; perhaps consider a habitat enhancement stamp to provide funding for such incentives.

Summary of Group Recommendations: Cossitt asked the group if there were any items listed that someone did not agree with or had special concerns about. The following issues were identified:

  • One of the small group recommendations was for energy companies to assist more financially with weed problems. Energy company representatives present at the meeting indicated that they are already required to address direct effects of their operations on weeds, and they would want to limit energy company funding to effects directly tied to energy development.
  • Financial resources are inadequate now to address the problem and don't see any change for that in the future.
  • Indian tribes face special issues for funding to address issues like weeds.

Power Lines and Generation Facilities

Cossitt briefly reviewed the description of power line issues related to sage grouse habitat (which begins on page 67 of the draft plan issued March 2004). The group was then asked to review conservation actions in small groups and make recommendations for actions similar to the exercise for noxious weeds.

Participants' recommendations on conservation actions in the draft state plan for power lines and generation facilities are as follows:

Goal 1: Minimize the impacts of power lines on sage grouse and sagebrush habitats. Issue area: Addressing existing power lines

Recommendations/Comments: Addressing issues on existing power lines will be more problematic than addressing issues on new lines, at least it will be problematic to totally relocate or bury existing lines.

  • Goal 1. Issue Area: Addressing new power lines
    Recommendations: Focus on developing power line route plans before construction. Include options for alternative energy sources.
  • Goal 1. Issue Area: Existing power lines causing consistent or significant collision mortality.
    Recommendation/Comments: Question of how to document "consistent or significant collision mortality." If problems are documented and verified, solutions should be via a coordinated approach with utilities, agencies, and landowners.

Goal 2: Minimize the impacts of fossil fuel generation facilities on sage grouse and sagebrush habitats.

Recommendations: Fossil fuel generation facilities in this area are primarily coal-based. Recommendations included identifying the footprint of any proposed facility (or expansion to existing facility) and identifying impacts and mitigation measures for sage grouse.

Goal 3: Minimize the impacts of wind generation facilities on sage grouse and sagebrush habitats.

Recommendation: Do not build wind generation facilities in sage grouse habitat. Use the FWS siting evaluation form.

Other Follow-up

Participants indicated that the timing restrictions for breeding were wrong in the draft plan. The breeding period should cover from March 1 through June 15, not March 1 through May 15.

Wrap-up

Cossitt asked the group if they had any suggestions for making the upcoming meetings more productive or useful, or if they had other suggestions regarding the newsletter, or any other suggestion. There were no comments on the newsletter. Suggestion for upcoming meetings was to include some discussion of EQIP and other programs, such as Pheasants Forever (try Yellowstone Chapter out of Billings. There were no suggestions for changing the meeting format.

The following recommendations were made for inviting people to upcoming meetings dealing with specific topics:

Topic

Invite

Livestock Grazing

Folks from Fort Keogh, Stockgrowers Association, Range Conservationists from the agencies (BLM, DNRC, etc.)

Predators

Representatives from the Dept of Livestock, USDA

 

Follow-up: Cossitt Consulting will compile the work of this group meeting on conservation actions and begin to provide more detail for assuring that the conservation actions will measure up to the FWS PECE criteria (Policy for Evaluating Conservation Effectiveness). The updated version will then be routed to local working group participants for review.

Participants

Amy Adler
Willis Bartholomay
Doug Campbell
Scott Cassel
Tom Courtney
Chad Cyrus
Ronald Devlin
John Ensign
Bob Green
Deborah Hanson
Paul Helland
Joseph Icenogle
Ward Jackson
Jerry Kobriger
Eric Lepisto
George Luther
John McCarthy
David Pratt
Bill Pruitt
Larry Rau
Brad Sauer
Dean Seifert
Jay Skabo
Watty Taylor
Dale Tribby
Kent Undlin
Carol Watts
Jason Whiteman
Don Youngbrauer
Gale Youngbrauer