Montana’s first comprehensive assessment of its fish, wildlife, and habitats was submitted for federal approval this week. The assessment is the state's contribution to a national effort to keep species from being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, and its completion keeps Montana in line to receive federal funding to conserve species in need within its borders.
Once approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana’s Comprehensive Fish and Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CFWCS) will serve as a guideline to start conserving species that have fallen in the funding gap between the state’s major game animals and those that are listed as threatened or endangered.
"The CFWCS is a platform for action to conserve fish, wildlife and natural places. It will help prevent species from becoming threatened or endangered, keeping fish and wildlife management decisions in the hands of Montanans. It will also enable FWP to fulfill its mission to conserve fish, wildlife, and the places they live for future generations," said T.O Smith, CFWCS coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The federal government required all states to develop these documents to ensure that State Wildlife Grant (SWG) funds are being used efficiently for on-the-ground conservation efforts and for states to remain eligible for future SWG allocations. All states hope the work leads to long-term commitment of federal funds to contribute to the states’ conservation resource pool.
SWG, the pilot federal funding source created by Congress in 2001, is currently the nation’s core source to fund fish and wildlife programs for species in greatest need of conservation––those for which biological information is lacking, whose populations are in decline, or that are at risk of decline. The money must be matched dollar-for-dollar, and FWP hopes to leverage funds and resources with conservation organizations, universities, and others to efficiently and effectively conserve species in greatest conservation need.
"Securing funds will allow state fish and wildlife agencies to broaden their focus to include species of greatest conservation need to better prevent or reverse population declines without exclusively tapping into traditional funding sources," said Smith.
Since 2002, Montana has received more than $5 million in SWG funds for fish and wildlife conservation programs, including prairie-stream surveys; native Arctic grayling and cutthroat trout restoration; loon research; wolf and grizzly bear management planning; and inventories of small mammals and reptiles.
Montana’s comprehensive assessment has four main components based on geography, fish and wildlife communities, species in greatest need of conservation, and species that need to be inventoried. Those components were subsequently placed into tiers of conservation need, from those in greatest need to those with fewer needs for additional conservation efforts.
Out of the more than 600 Montana species identified in the strategy, 60 were determined to be of greatest conservation need. These species include:
* One mussel: the western pearlshell
* Three amphibians: the boreal toad, Coeur d’Alene salamander, and the northern leopard frog.
* Five reptiles: the milk snake, smooth green snake, snapping turtle, spiny softshell turtle, and western hognose snake.
* 19 birds, including the burrowing owl and long-billed curlew.
* 15 mammals, including the lynx and spotted bat.
* 17 fish, including the Yellowstone cutthroat trout and endangered pallid sturgeon.
Of the 60 species, 22 have previously developed conservation plans and 11 are listed as threatened or endangered species, Smith said. He stressed that Montana’s assessment is not a regulatory plan. It points to areas where species are doing well and to areas that need attention. “It is a proactive approach to conserving fish, wildlife, and habitats before species become more rare and more costly to protect. It is far more costly on a variety of levels to continue allowing species to decline under the radar and emerge as threatened or endangered.”
Strategy development was a collaborative effort with government agencies, private groups, universities and others in the state. The document underwent an internal and public review process this summer, including public information sessions in each region of the state. More than 45 people attended the public information sessions, representing more than 25 different organizations along with private landowners and interested citizens. All comments were considered and incorporated as appropriate into the final draft.
FWP expects the USFWS to respond to Montana's assessment by January 2006. In the meantime, agency and conservation organization leaders will be meeting to outline priorities for implementing the strategy once funding levels are known.
The final draft document is currently available on FWP's web page under Wild Things, Final Draft CFWCS. Executive summaries will be available after federal approval of the draft. For information, call 406-444-3889 or 406-444-3318, or your nearest FWP office.