Anne Cossitt welcomed the group and reviewed the agenda. Participants introduced themselves.
Cossitt told the group that a revised (second) Environmental Assessment (EA) was being issued by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks on the state sage grouse conservation plan. Anyone who received the Final Draft Plan and EA in March/April of this year will also be sent the new EA, she believes. Copies of the new EA were available at the meeting.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has completed its detailed assessment of sage grouse. The 610-page document is available on the Internet at http://sagegrouse.wafwa.org/. This document will be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as part of the status review they are now conducting.
Cossitt indicated that at the last round of local working group meetings, participants had directed her to draft a letter from the local working groups to FWS to inform them of the work that is being done by the groups. That letter is on the local working group website. It was also emailed to anyone who had email addresses on the local working group contact list and who had attended at least one meeting. Copies of the draft letter were passed out, and Cossitt asked for any comments to be sent to her by June 18, to allow time for changes and still make the mailing deadline of June 21. Bob Green indicated he had sent in some suggested changes and indicated that any studies that are being done should be referenced. Kent Undlin indicated that the BLM did an extensive review of their work and that is being sent in as well. There was no one present who knew if any other federal or state agencies were submitting similar information. Some of the new studies include the research being done by Brendan Moynihan and others in Montana. Another study that was suggested was the 1980 work of George Grewell. It was also suggested that FWS be informed of the proposed Sagebrush Initiative effort of FWP.
John Ensign presented a slide show about Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MT FWP) programs that could benefit sage brush habitat for sage grouse. He gave some background on current sage grouse habitat conditions in Montana, indicating that most of the remaining habitat in Montana is primarily rangeland, and that nearly 50% of the remaining habitat in Montana is in private ownership.
The Sagebrush Initiative, developed by MT FWP, is based on the following key components:
Funding projects are based on priority, which is primarily factored by considering importance of the area to sage grouse and type and use of land. Highest priority areas are based on:
Other FWP habitat programs include the Upland Game Bird Habitat Enhancement Program (UGBHEP), which helps develop rest-rotation grazing systems by providing cost share, and the Habitat Montana Program, which helps purchase conservation easements.
Questions included the following:
Persons interested in these programs should contact John Ensign or other local FWP staff.
Cossitt briefly described the location and purpose of the morning field trip, which was to examine seasonal habitats in the field and use the habitat assessment forms in the plan to assess condition. She asked field trip participants to share what they thought was important to remember. There were a number of comments about the complexity of the form(s) and need to make it simpler if it is going to be used by landowners. Some suggestions included:
Develop a booklet with photos to display various habitat types and conditions
Use photos (from various angles) to provide a general indication of percent of canopy cover
Use a graduated scale from 0-10 to indicate quality of habitat.
Larry Murphy of the NRCS indicated that the new CSP program being initiated in the lower Yellowstone River region would use a landowner self-assessment of conditions, being developed now. Larry will present the CSP program and other NRCS programs at the next meeting.
Other comments were:
Cossitt referred to a hand-out for the noxious weeds conservation actions that were discussed at the previous meeting. The hand-out included each of the goals, issues, and conservation actions in a matrix format with columns for comments made at each of the three local working groups in Miles City, Dillon, and Glasgow, as well as columns for various agencies.
Cossitt noted that the matrix was still a work in progress that builds on the work from each local working group and that adds more specific information on what each agency or group is currently doing related to a specific conservation action. The intent is to highlight the gaps and to focus on how those might be addressed. Cossitt noted that much work was accomplished at the local working group meetings, and good suggestions for some actions came from those meetings, but the work needs to progress to the next level. If there was a suggestion for "coordination among the agencies," for example, then the action plan should indicate who would initiate that coordination and how it would be done.
Cossitt asked for participants to consider volunteering to help develop the detail for the matrix. She also noted that a similar approach would be taken with the work done for power lines at the last meeting and for future conservation issue topics as well.
The group suggested that the county weed districts are likely leads for work on weeds and they should be added to the matrix.
As a full group, participants reviewed goals, issues, and conservation actions for vegetation as laid out in the state plan. Cossitt handed out a matrix similar to the one for noxious weeds.
Goal 1: Manage sagebrush communities in a manner that results in improved health and no net loss of sagebrush habitats.
Goal 2: Provide for a density, composition, and diversity of sagebrush in Montana that meet seasonal needs of sage grouse while contributing to overall community health.
Discussion: It was noted that livestock can eliminate some of the mature cover---they will eat it. Currently, the most frequently used treatment in SE MT is fire.
Time did not allow for further review of conservation actions. Participants volunteered to work with the Cossitt Consulting Team on completing the remaining portions and with other conservation action topics as follows (participants recommended two new categories be added to the matrix-- private sector landowners and mining industry):
Dates for the next meetings were set:
August 30, Monday at 3:00 p.m.
October 4, Monday at 3:00 p.m.
Topic for next meeting will be livestock grazing.
Cossitt asked the group if the meetings were useful to folks and to serve the purpose of adopting a local action plan. Participants indicated that they preferred working as a single group on the conservation actions rather than in smaller groups (as long as the single group wasn't too large). One participant asked if the meetings were helpful to the agencies and/or affecting the way they would go about doing things. Agency representatives indicated it was very helpful to have landowners at the meetings.