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Local Work Group Q & A

Why do sage grouse need attention?

Once found in 13 western states and three Canadian provinces, sage grouse are found today in 11 states and in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The bird's remaining strongholds are in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Concerned about the status of sagebrush habitat and sage grouse on western rangelands, several parties have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

While the loss of sagebrush habitat in quality and quantity is not as severe in Montana as elsewhere, the loss is significant enough, at least in parts of the state, to influence sage grouse numbers and populations trends.

What is the Montana sage grouse management plan?

The sage grouse plan is the result of more than two years of research and deliberation by the Montana Sage Grouse Work Group, which included livestock producers, sportsmen, biologists, and many other interested parties. The work group adopted this goal for the plan: To provide for the long-term conservation and enhancement of the sagebrush steppe/mixed-grass prairie complex within Montana in a manner that supports sage grouse and a healthy diversity and abundance of wildlife species and human uses.

The plan describes the status of, and the threats to, Montanas sage grouse population and sagebrush habitat, and it provides a framework for establishing voluntary working groups around the state to carry out the plan on a local basis. It offers a toolbox of information and conservation approaches, designed for tailoring to community conditions and concerns. The entire plan is available at: www.fwp.mt.gov/wildthings/sagegrouse/default.asp.

What are Local Working Groups?

These are groups of people who volunteer to work locally on activities to benefit sage grouse and sagebrush habitat, using the toolbox of information and conservation approaches provided in the state plan. Eventually, 11 local groups will be established around the state. The first three groups are being established for the areas surrounding Dillon, Miles City, and Glasgow. These communities were chosen as the first three because they present diverse conditions. Around Dillon, sagebrush habitat is undergoing significant effects from the subdivision and development of land. Around Miles City, coalbed methane development is likely to have an impact on sage grouse and sagebrush habitat. Sage grouse populations around Glasgow are comparatively healthy, and the working group will focus on maintaining this status.

Local working groups will follow these guiding principles:

  1. Conservation actions implemented for sage grouse will contribute to the overall health of sagebrush communities across the landscape.
  2. Conservation strategies will integrate local, regional, and national needs for conservation planning.
  3. Wildlife professionals, land managers, private landowners, and all others who have a stake in sagebrush communities will be tolerant, understanding, and respectful of other perspectives and focus on areas of common interest.
  4. This plan is not intended to exclude any uses or activities or infringe on legally defined private property rights; rather, it serves to provide solutions to problems and address issues that negatively affect sage grouse and degrade sagebrush community health.

How will this effort affect land use?

The working groups will propose activities and projects based on the status and needs of local sage grouse populations and sagebrush habitat. Participation by landowners in a working group or in any activity or project is entirely voluntary. Local groups will work cooperatively with federal and state agencies and will have the opportunity to recommend actions that could be taken on public lands. The working groups have no authority over private land, state or federal land or land management agencies, or non-governmental organizations.

Who was involved in preparing the state management plan?

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) coordinated the process. Participants included Montana Stockgrowers Association and individual livestock producers, Southwest Stockgrowers, Montana Petroleum Association, Northwest Energy, Fort Belknap Tribes, North American Grouse Partnership, Montana Falconers Association, Montana State University, Montana Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Montana Audubon, Montana Department of Agriculture, Montana DNRC, USDA Forest Service, Custer National Forest, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and interested individuals.

Who is organizing the Local Working Groups?

The Sage Grouse Plan Committee includes representatives from some of the organizations named above. This committee has hired the Cossitt Consulting Team to organize the first three working groups and provide support for the groups for 18 months. The team includes Anne Cossitt, Barb Beck, and Susan Bury, all of whom have experience with similar initiatives. This effort is being funded by grants from BLM, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Cossitt Consulting Team: Anne Cossitt, Cossitt Consulting, Park City, 633-2213, cossitt@usadig.com.