The Montana Sage Grouse Work Group recently released its draft plan to conserve and manage sage grouse, a native Montana upland game bird that several groups have petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"We're confident that this plan establishes a solid process to conserve Montana's sage grouse populations and one that offers state wildlife managers, public-land managers, and private landowners flexible guidelines for local conservation options," said FWP's John McCarthy, chair of the Montana Sage Grouse Work Group.
The sage grouse, now with six different petitions submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for an Endangered Species Act listing, is North America’s largest grouse and is best known for its distinctive spring mating rituals on breeding grounds called "leks." Once found in 13 western states and three Canadian provinces, today sage grouse are found in 11 states and in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The bird's remaining strongholds are in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
"In December and January, FWP will take comment on the committee's conservation plan that address FWP's commitments to conserve sage grouse in Montana," McCarthy said. "Those commitments include working to maintain Montana's current distribution of sage grouse and sagebrush over the next 50 years. The committee's draft conservation plan seeks to maintain state authority to manage sage grouse and to help conserve important sagebrush-grassland habitats."
The Montana Sage Grouse Work Group, a mix of state and federal agencies, hunting groups, Montana Indian tribes, conservation groups, stockgrowers, and individuals, was formed two years ago and met monthly in different Montana communities to examine the sage grouse's status in Montana. The group sought to develop a science-based conservation plan to address factors that may impact sage grouse populations.
In its 180-page draft plan, the work group identifies 12 major sage grouse conservation issues, the social and economic implications posed by those issues, and suggests guidelines and actions to conserve Montana's sage grouse and their habitats. The 12 major issues identified in the plan include: fire, grazing, hunting, vegetation, and noxious-weed management; mining and energy development; outreach and education; power lines and generation facilities; predation; recreational disturbance; roads and motorized vehicles; and managing other wildlife in sage grouse habitat.
To help meet its legal responsibilities under the Montana Environmental Protection Act, FWP will host five public meetings in December to take public comment on its commitments to the plan and on additional sage grouse conservation issues. "The plan presents a range of management options for different agencies to consider," McCarthy said. "We want to present FWP's commitments to the public and we need to hear about other ideas and concerns folks may have."
The meetings will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. An open house will be followed by an informational update set to begin at 7 p.m. Public comments--and additional one-on-one discussions--will follow the update. The sessions are set for:
Other work group representatives also will be on hand to informally answer questions about how they may attempt to implement the plan's suggested guidelines in the future.
In addition, FWP has arranged to take comment through Jan. 20, 2003 via FWP's website at www.fwp.state.mt.us--look for the Sage Grouse Plan link in the Hot Topics box; and by mail at Sage Grouse Plan, Montana FWP, P.O. Box 200701; Helena, MT 59620-0701.