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Conservation > Wildlife Management Nongame Wildlife

What is "Nongame" Wildlife?

In 1973, the Montana legislature passed a law clarifying FWP's responsibility to manage all wildlife, including nongame species. Montana statute defines nongame wildlife as "any wild mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, fish, mollusk, crustacean, or other animal not otherwise legally classified by statute or regulation of this state" (MCA 87-5-102 (6)).

Basically, nongame animals are classified by what they're not - meaning any animal not classified as big game, upland game birds, migratory game birds, furbearer or predator.

Over 85% of Montana's birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are classified as nongame, totaling almost 500 species. Think of all the familiar wildlife in your backyard — finches, bluebirds, robins, and woodpeckers, as well as chipmunks, shrews, toads, salamanders, and turtles. We are surrounded by nongame wildlife everyday and everywhere we go in Montana. These species are incredibly important to the balance of nature as they serve as predators, prey, excavators, pollinators, and so much more. These species also enrich our lives serving as entertainment during our days outside and as educational tools for our children to learn about the natural world.

The public, not the sportsman, owns the game.

The public is (and the sportsman ought to be) just as much interested in conserving non-game species, forests, fish, and other wild life as in conserving game.

In the long run lop-sided programs dealing with game only, songbirds only, forests only, or fish only, will fail because they cost too much, use up too much energy in friction, and lack sufficient volume of support."

— Aldo Leopold, Report to the American Game Conference on an American Game Policy, 1930.

Annual Reports

The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Nongame Program strives to meet five fundamental objectives:

  1. Conserve, restore, and enhance habitat for nongame wildlife

  2. Maintain nongame species distribution and abundance

  3. Increase internal and external support and appreciation for nongame wildlife

  4. Increase the public's access to nongame wildlife

  5. Minimize the negative impacts of Endangered Species Act listings to landowners, recreationists, and user groups

Reports

Montana's State Wildlife Action Plan

In the early years of fish and wildlife management, the focus was on restoration of game animals and their habitats. This focus was, and continues to be, a result of hunters and anglers providing most of a state fish and wildlife agency's funding through purchasing hunting and fishing licenses. However, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is statutorily mandated to manage all wildlife, including species not typically fished for or hunted.

Without reducing the attention focused on important game species, FWP needs to find a way to manage for other species with the most critical needs. The problem is, however, funds to manage other species are very limited.

To help address the conservation needs of these other wildlife species, Congress created the State Wildlife Grant (SWG) funding program in 2000. SWG funds are intended "... for the development and implementation of programs for the benefit of wildlife and their habitat, including species that are not hunted or fished." Congress stipulated that each state and territory that wished to participate in the SWG funding program must develop a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) by October 1, 2005. All 56 states and territories submitted SWAPs by the deadline and made commitments to review and perhaps revise their SWAP at least every 10 years.

Research

 

Sagebrush and Grassland Bird Responses to a Rest Rotation Grazing Management Strategy

Livestock grazing is pervasive and managed by private landowners, federal agencies, and state agencies across the west, and wildlife conservation objectives are often primary considerations in grazing management programs. Most recently, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has embarked on the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI), which provides for grazing management on private lands over a vast area with the intent of benefitting sage-grouse. Sagebrush-obligate migratory birds respond quickly to habitat changes by shifting their distributions and adapting their reproductive performance. Thus these birds can serve as an initial barometer of sagebrush ecosystem integrity and the impacts of grazing management designed to positively benefit avian communities. In 2012, we initiated a research project building off of the existing infrastructure established by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park’s (MTFWP) sage grouse research, to evaluate the impact of SGI’s rest-rotational grazing regimes on migratory bird species associated with sagebrush landscapes. The results of this study will inform sustainable and economically viable land management practices that maintain habitat for migratory birds.

 
Project Reports
 
Publications

 

Project Personnel
Lorelle Berkeley

Wildlife Research Biologist

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Mark Szczypinski

Science Technician, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Victoria Dreitz, PhD

Associate Professor and Director, Avian Science Center

Wildlife Biology Program

W.A. Franke College of Festry and Conservation

University of Montana

 

Kaitlyn Reintsma, PhD Candidate, Wildlife Biology Program

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Coservation

University of Montana

 

Project Funders

Financial support for this project has been provided by Pittman-Robertson funds issued to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the US Geological Survey Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, FWP Nongame Checkoff dollars, State Wildlife Grants issued to FWP matched with FWP license dollars, Plains and Prairie Pothole Landscape Conservation Cooperative (USFWS), Bureau of Land Management, OnXmaps, and the University of Montana.

 


Grouse Food, Pollinator and Dung Beetle Ecology - Grazing

Livestock grazing is a dominant pressure on the majority of the range and prairie lands in Montana and is capable of modifying wildlife habitat in either positive or negative directions. It is vitally important for rangeland health to understand how arthropod food webs are influenced by these dominant pressures. It is becoming clear that arthropods alone can successfully drive ecosystems and that they are vital to the survival of many other species including game and non-game birds. Therefore it is vital to know, from the bottom up, how various grazing systems alter plant community structure which in turn alters the food resources and thermoregulations sites of arthropods. It is also of equal importance to know, from the top down, how grazing influences different predatory guilds of arthropods which, through hunting strategy alone, can produce a trophic cascade thus altering the arthropod community. Arthropods affect the detritus which in turn influences soil nutrients, which affects the vegetation, which impacts wildlife and their habitats. Our project is based on gathering data on a structural foundation of how, within grazing systems, arthropods influence wildlife populations and habitat.

We are conducting two intertwined projects which investigate how livestock grazing influences arthropods important to both sharp-tailed grouse and greater sage-grouse survival in Montana (MT). Project 1 investigates the MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) recommended three-pasture rest-rotation grazing program as implemented on a private ranch in eastern MT with an FWP conservation easement on it. Project 2 investigates the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) rest-rotation grazing program as implemented on multiple private ranches in central MT.

 

Project Reports

Final Report: Grouse Food, Pollinator, and Dung Beetle Ecology - Grazing (PDF)

 

Publications

Goosey, H. B., J. T. Smith, K. M. O'Neill, and D. E. Naugle. 2019. Ground-Dwelling Arthropod Community Response to Livestock Grazing: Implications for Avian Conservation. Environmental Entomology 48:856-866. (PDF)

 

Project Personnel

 

Lorelle Berkeley

Wildlife Research Biologist

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Justin Gude
Wildlife Research & Technical Services Chief

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Jessica Mitchell, PhD

Director, Spatial Analysis Laboratory

University of Montana

 

Claudine Tobalske, PhD

GIS Analyst/Ecologist, Spatial Analysis Laboratory

University of Montana

 

Mark Szczypinski

Science Technician, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Victoria Dreitz, PhD

Associate Professor and Director, Avian Science Center

Wildlife Biology Program

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

University of Montana

 

Jennifer Helm; PhD Candidate, Wildlife Biology Program

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

University of Montana

 

Project Funders
Current Funding:
  • Pittman-Robertson funds issued to FWP by USFWS
Past Funding:
  • State Wildlife Action grant federal dollars and matching state FWP dollars
  • Western Sustainable Agriculture, Research, and Education project SW11-086
  • Montana State University
  • NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program
  • Intermountain West Joint Venture

 


Diversity Monitoring

Completing statewide baseline assessments of the status and distribution of terrestrial reptiles and bats (Tier 1 Inventory priorities) provides the foundation for determining the appropriate steps to be taken to conserve these species groups. Establishing statewide sampling schemes for monitoring the status and distribution of bats and reptiles, compatible with efforts undertaken by the USFS and BLM for these same species groups, is essential in providing a cost effective and disciplined approach across all landownership jurisdictions.

This project was undertaken to provide a sampling scheme and framework of methodologies that can be combined with those previously developed for small mammals, birds, and amphibians for simultaneous long-term monitoring of a diversity of wildlife on public and private lands. This work was accomplished utilizing existing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) and Montana Natural Heritage Program (MNHP) staff, seasonal technicians, and other cooperators. The project included up to 6 inventory crews who were active during the May-August field survey period. Bat-call recordings were analyzed by MNHP staff for verification purposes, and strict protocols for amphibian and reptile inventory procedures were followed at all times. All species information was placed in the statewide Point Observation Database. Vegetation characteristics were documented at each sampling site to gain information on habitat relationships of detected species. Digital maps of species distributions and key habitat areas were produced and maintained on file, along with habitat images in digital format.

 
Project Reports

 

Project Personnel
Lauri Hanauska-Brown

Nongame / Threatened and Endangered Species Section Manager

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Dan Bachen

Senior Ecologist

Montana Natural Heritage Program

 

Adam Petersen

Fish and Wildlife Information Specialist

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Project Funders

Financial support for this project has been provided by State Wildlife Action grant federal dollars, matching state FWP dollars and state MNHP dollars.

 


Management and Conservation of Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs

Numerous animal and plant species are dependent on, or closely associated with, the burrowing and foraging activities of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus). In Montana, these species include the federally endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and numerous state Species of Concern such as the ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), and burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) (MPDWG 2002, MTNHP and MFWP 2010). To manage and protect black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species, the Conservation Plan for black-tailed and White-tailed prairie dogs in Montana calls for statewide prairie dog abundance and distribution standards, including complexes defined by a 7km distance to nearest neighbor rule that are greater than 5,000 acres (Category 1), between 1,000 and 5,000 acres (Category 2), and less than 1,000 acres (Category 3) (MPDWG 2002). The conservation plan also calls for inventorying and monitoring prairie dog distribution and status and identifying isolated colonies in need of special consideration for conservation or possible use in restoration of colonies depopulated by plague.

A 2008 statewide aerial survey by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks of black-tailed prairie dog habitat resulted in an estimate of 78,000 hectares of active prairie dog colonies. Subsequent efforts by the Montana Natural Heritage Program digitized 2005 and 2009 NAIP images to further refine the knowledge of occupied habitat across the state. The findings of these efforts led the Montana Prairie Dog Working Group to prioritize additional work for 2011 and 2012. The prioritized tasks included: 1) Prairie dog colony identification (aerial confirmation of activity) and 2) Colony ground truthing (only in areas identified as occupied through aerial work) and colony density documentation (occupied vs unoccupied).

During the summer of 2012 a contractor was hired to ground truth the select complexes in attempts to identify the highest conservation priorities. Specific tasks included:

  1. Ground truth spatial data collected through NAIP imagery evaluation and aerial survey data to confirm presence of a Category 1 prairie dog complex in southern Montana as defined in the Conservation Plan for black-tailed and White-tailed prairie dogs in Montana (Montana Prairie Dog Working Group 2002).

  2. Map spatial boundaries of as many individual prairie dog towns within the overall complex that can be accessed as possible.

  3. Create GIS coverage of complexes for use by agency and non-government organization staff to prioritize conservation efforts for prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets.

  4. Collect information on prairie dog presence and any evidence of plague events.

An Oral Vaccine against Sylvatic Plague in Prairie Dogs

In recent years, the USGS began research on the development, testing, and registration of a plague vaccine for prairie dogs that can be delivered via oral baits. The current method to manage plague, which is dusting with insecticide in prairie dog colonies is not satisfactory. It is time consuming, expensive, and is limited to the treated area. An oral vaccine against plague that could be broadcast via plane or vehicle in the form of baits would provide wildlife managers a critical management tool. The benefits of an oral vaccination program would include: more efficient and economical management of prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets and other species of concern; the ability to balance prairie dog management with other land use needs; reduced use of pesticides on public lands; and a potential method to reduce the risk of plague transmission to humans in national forests, parks and other areas. By creating and distributing a vaccine in the field, managers can stabilize prairie dog populations reducing the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. Field testing of an oral plague vaccine began in Montana and other western states in 2013.

 

Project Reports

 
Project Personnel
Justin Gude

Research and Technical Service Section Supervisor

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Lauri Hanauska-Brown

Nongame / Threatened and Endangered Species Section Manager

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Bryce Maxell

Senior Ecologist

Montana Natural Heritage Program

 

Ryan Rauscher

Wildlife Biologist

Montana Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Project Funders

Financial support for this project has come from State Wildlife Action grant federal dollars, matching state FWP and Montana Natural Heritage Program dollars.

 


Sprague’s Pipit Monitoring and Predictive Modeling

The Montana Natural Heritage Program estimates approximately 18% of the continental population of Sprague's pipits breeds in Montana. They are a Species of Concern in Montana and are listed as a Priority 1 species, or species in need of conservation action, in the Partner’s in Flight Bird Conservation Plan, Montana.

The majority of moderate to high suitability habitat for Sprague's pipits in Montana is in north Valley County. Neighboring Phillips and Blaine counties also have some relatively large areas of moderate suitability habitat. Breeding Bird Survey data for Montana is of moderate credibility and indicates potential but not significant declines in Sprague's pipit abundance statewide. Breeding Bird Survey trend maps, however, indicate increases in Sprague's pipits throughout the north-central grasslands of eastern Montana. Sprague's pipits were detected on 49.8–71.4% of points surveyed on Bureau of Land Management lands in north Valley County from 2001–2007. They were the fourth most abundant grassland bird Species of Concern in this study area. In north Blaine and Phillips counties in 2007, Sprague's pipits were detected on 46.9% of point surveyed. In comparison, Sprague's pipits were detected on 1% of points on bird surveys in Petroleum and Fergus Counties in 1998 and 1999. In 2009, 31 Sprague's pipits were detected at 226 sampling locations throughout Bird Conservation Region 17, which includes southeastern Montana (Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, unpublished data). Clearly the native grasslands of Valley, Phillips, and Blaine counties provide important habitat for Sprague's pipits in Montana.

Threats to Sprague's pipit populations and habitat include continued loss of native prairie and loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands. From 2005-2009, 46,871 acres of grassland were converted to agriculture in Montana (Ducks Unlimited, pers. comm. ). State lands managed for school trusts support some of the highest Sprague's pipit densities in north Valley County (BLM, pers. comm. ) These lands are not in permanent protection and may be sold or converted to other uses to generate revenue for state schools. Additionally, contracts have expired on approximately 465,000 acres of lands enrolled in CRP in the prairie pothole region of Montana between 2007 and 2009. Another 3.4 million acres under CRP contracts are expected to expire in the prairie pothole region of the Dakotas and Montana by 2012 (Ducks Unlimited news release, Nov 10, 2009).

Grazing patterns and energy development also have the potential for negatively impacting Sprague's pipits habitat, however impacts may vary depending on local vegetation structure and composition, management techniques, and other site-based factors. Heavy cattle grazing that reduces vegetation height or density may negatively impact Sprague's pipits, although moderate grazing may provide suitable habitat. Recent research at the Judith Gap Wind Farm in Montana found no evidence of Sprague's pipit displacement or fatalities in response to wind farm construction and operation.

Traditional Section 6 ESA Program funding was received to help verify and improve predictive occurrence models in Montana and provide needed location and abundance data. This work will highlight areas of conservation importance for this species, and will also provide the information necessary to articulate measureable benefits from conservation action for Sprague's pipits. Ultimately, we anticipate targeted conservation action will reduce threats on Sprague's pipit populations and keep the species from being fully listed under the Endangered Species Act. Landowners would be able to continue their tradition of stewardship without regulations that could potentially impact economic operations.

Approach: FWP's specific goals for the Sprague's pipit project is to conduct field surveys to verify and refine existing predictive models of Sprague's pipit occurrence and collect location and abundance data in Montana. This corresponds with Conservation Action 1.B.3 and 1.B.4 as identified in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sprague's pipit Conservation Plan. We plan to use model output to identify priority areas to target conservation activities (Conservation Action 1.A.2) and will feature priority areas in recommendations to federal and state habitat initiatives and in discussions with local landowners (Conservation Action 5.4).

FWP plans to use existing information to develop maps predicting Sprague's pipit optimal and suitable habitat, and will conduct structured surveys for Sprague's pipit within these two strata using standardized point counts. Sampling will be conducted in cooperation with existing survey efforts conducted by the Bureau of Land Management, Montana Natural Heritage Program, The Nature Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory to maximize efficiency and model inference.

Partners in the Montana Bird Conservation Partnership will collect and analyze data. We will use distance sampling and occupancy modeling in analysis. Priority areas for Sprague's pipit conservation will be identified during the modeling process. FWP plans to include these priority areas in FWP’s Comprehensive Fish and Wildlife Conservation Strategy revision and Crucial Areas Planning System, and make them available for inclusion in BLM Resource Management Plans and NRCS habitat initiatives. Priority areas can also be targeted for conservation by nongovernment organizations working within Sprague's pipit distribution such as The Nature Conservancy.

 

Project Report
 
Project Personnel
Lauri Hanauska-Brown

Nongame / Threatened and Endangered Species Section Manager

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Bryce Maxell

Senior Ecologist

Montana Natural Heritage Program

 

Catherine Wightman

Sagebrush, Wetlands, Grassland and Farm Bill Coordinator

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

 

Project Funders

Project Funders Traditional Section 6 ESA Program funding provided the seed money for this work. Matching state FWP dollars and state Montana Natural Heritage Program dollars were also used.

 

Other Research