The Department of the Interiors announcement that it intends to re-open the 2015 Sage Grouse Plan for comments and amendments may be beneficial to ranchers according to the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF). The conservation plan, a collaborative effort by stakeholders in 11 western states, was designed to prevent the bird from being listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Keep in mind the comment period doesnt necessarily mean the federal implementation plan will be changed, notes Liv Stavick who follows Sage Grouse issues for the Montana Farm Bureau. We think the Montana Sage Grouse plan has merit; however, there are different requirements for federal agencies that may not meet the needs of BLM land in Montana. Opening the comment period will give Montana federal land users the opportunity to tailor a plan that works best for the birds in Montana.
Initially in 2005, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks finalized the sage grouse management plan which included mapping important sage grouse habitat, and ramping up conservation efforts. In 2013 when there was talk about the sage grouse being listed as an endangered species, Montana Governor Steve Bullock convened the Greater Sage Grouse Advisory Council made up of diverse stakeholders and experts charged with recommending conservation measures. In 2014, the agency was directed to establish regulatory mechanisms to protect sage grouse habitat, along with creating a Sage Grouse Conservation program. In 2015 the Montana Legislature passed the Greater Sage Grouse Stewardship Act which created the MSGOT, the Sage Grouse Stewardship Fund, and had a shared goal of conserving bird habitats. In late September, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined a listing of the greater sage grouse was not warranted.
During the development of the state plan, the BLM indicated that they would amend the state plan into Montana Resource Management Plans after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the state plan. That did not happen, notes Stavick. This led to the BLM having across-theboard requirements, many of which dont work in Montana. One instance is stubble height of 7 inches during the nesting period. On much of Montanas public land it is doubtful that grass will ever grow to 7 inches.
Stavick believes state plans are strong, and although the comment period will be open, current sage grouse plans dont need drastic revisions. The bottom line is that the State of Montana has been very pro-active about sage grouse habitat and Montana Farm Bureau has been involved since the beginning. We are currently developing talking points and will encourage our members to comment during the 45-day comment period which ends in November, concluded Stavick.