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Upland Game Bird Council enjoys tour of habitat projects

Fish & Wildlife - Region 7

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Justin Hughes - food plot

Justin Hughes - food plot

Justin Hughes - Food plot 2

Justin Hughes - Food plot 2

Mother Nature has smiled upon Montana’s upland game bird habitat this year, and Fish, Wildlife & Parks continues to partner with landowners to create new and better habitat.

The Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program Advisory Council met Sept. 23 and 24 in Glendive and had a chance to see some of these cooperative projects on the ground in FWP’s Region 7. The 12-member volunteer group advises FWP on administering its game bird habitat programs. Members include bird hunters, conservationists, biologists, legislators, landowners and business interests.

Through the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program, FWP provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and public lessees to preserve and enhance game bird populations. FWP’s priority is to address game birds’ need for winter food, nesting cover and thermal cover, while increasing public access and opportunity. There are many ways to improve habitat, including shelterbelts, winter cover, nesting cover, habitat management leases and food plots. What benefits birds often also benefits other wildlife and livestock. These improvements are funded through hunting license dollars, and in exchange landowners provide public access to upland game bird hunters.

On Sept. 23, the Upland Game Bird Advisory Council toured several habitat projects in the Glendive area. One project on the tour was a 10-acre diverse food plot mix near Bloomfield. Members eagerly waded into the tall, lush-green blend of triticale, sorghum, rape, radishes and clovers. The diverse mix of annual plants will not only provide excellent pollinator and bird brood rearing habitat but also winter food and cover.

FWP Region 7 Upland Game Bird Biologist Justin Hughes said the landowner put in the plot June 30, and under contract terms it must stand until the end of March to provide a food source and cover.

“Every one of these plots has seen a lot of wildlife use,” Hughes said.

Region 7 currently has about 32 active standing grain and diverse mix food plot contracts covering 812 acres. FWP works with the landowners to create a wildlife-friendly seed mix that fits into the producer’s crop rotation. The landowners then receive a payment for each acre of food plot that is left for winter wildlife habitat. All told, these contracts allow public access to nearly 56,500 acres of upland bird hunting access. Most of these projects occur on private land that is enrolled in Block Management or public lands; however, many landowners who are not in Block Management also participate in habitat enhancement projects and allow hunting access through the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program. 

“We already work with Block Management cooperators, so we have the access component down,” Hughes said. “If we can then improve their agricultural operation and create better wildlife habitat and hunting opportunity at the same time, it’s a win for everyone.”

Next on the tour was an idled hay field and riparian area that is under a Habitat Management Lease. The lease involves 86 acres of grassland adjoining about a mile of creek bottom. Because it is not continually grazed, it provides good nesting habitat for birds and cover for bird hunters. It is one of many habitat management leases in the region this year, totaling 606 habitat acres and nearly 13,000 access acres.

The tour was wrapped up by a visit to a rest-rotation grazing system that was implemented through the UGBEP. FWP cost-shared on infrastructure, which enhances livestock grazing and water supplies for the landowner and provides year-round habitat and hunting opportunity for upland birds and other wildlife. This is one of many of the grazing systems that FWP has worked with landowners on across the state.

Region 7 has two new contracts under Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters, enrolling 434 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres that allow walk-in public access for game bird hunting. This program is designed to incentivize landowners to keep and enroll land in the CRP Program, which is rapidly diminishing in Montana.

FWP also contracts with landowners for tree/shrub plantings, nesting cover planting, grazing system implementation, and much more.


Statewide, in Fiscal Year 2019 FWP enhanced 27,772 acres through the UGBEP. It created 107,863 new access acres.


For more information about FWP’s Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program, contact FWP Region 7 Upland Game Bird Biologist Justin Hughes at 234-0922.


Photo cutline: FWP Region 7 Upland Game Bird Biologist Justin Hughes, center facing, answers questions about a diverse mix food plot from members of the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program Council during a tour of Glendive-area habitat projects on Sept. 23. The council was in Glendive for two days of meetings, which included the tour.