Little Missouri Grazing Association commits to protecting sage grouse habitat | TSLN.com

Little Missouri Grazing Association commits to protecting sage grouse habitat

Over the past years, “prescribed grazing,” “riparian areas,” “residual cover,” and “canopy cover” are new terms and ideas ranchers have had to adopt as environmental mandates and regulations became part of their business operations without their input. However, the Little Missouri Grazing Association (LMGA) seized a rare opportunity to be proactive, rather than be reactive, to the announcement that the sage grouse was a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Early in 2010, the LMGA requested a meeting with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to learn what LMGA members could do now to preserve what sage grouse habitat they did have and to enhance potential habitat.

In 2010, using NRCS protocol, the LMGA, with USFS assistance, began to establish sage grouse habitat monitoring points throughout North Dakota’s core sage grouse habitat range. Each “point,” a 100-foot transect established in big sagebrush or silver sagebrush plant communities, collected vegetation data that included type and height. This initial data collection is the “benchline,” or snapshot, of habitat quality as it exists today. These permanently established points will be monitored to maintain and enhance habitat if necessary. The ultimate goal is to keep the sage grouse off of the Endangered Species List.

Sage grouse in North Dakota are restricted to approximately 800 square miles in western Bowman County, western Slope County, and southern Golden Valley County.

According to the Management Plan and Conservation Strategies for Greater Sage Grouse in North Dakota (NDGP, 2005), historical loss of sagebrush communities (particularly homesteading and tillage prior to 1972) has contributed to sage grouse population decline. Sage grouse are closely tied to sagebrush communities, particularly big sagebrush, for all their habitat needs, especially food and cover.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) added the sage grouse to the list of species that are candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. Because the USFWS determined that there are other species facing “more immediate and severe extinction threats” the sage grouse will not be placed under “threatened” or “endangered” status until those other species have been studied and analyzed. However, the USFWS will review the sage grouse status annually to determine if sage grouse needs immediate protection.

Much of the core habitat and range area is Dakota Prairie Grasslands administered by the USFS and is leased to LMGA. The LMGA is obliged “to promote, aid, and protect these resources and the livestock industry.” Some LMGA members belong to the local Sage Grouse Working Group in Bowman and Slope counties. This working group has teamed up with NRCS to enhance their own private land for sage grouse, like planting alfalfa in areas where forbs are needed for forage. Several LMGA members are multi-generational ranchers with a rich history and a vested interest to environmentally preserve their land. Taking action now protects landowners from increased regulation should the bird be listed under the Endangered Species Act in the future.

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Over the past years, “prescribed grazing,” “riparian areas,” “residual cover,” and “canopy cover” are new terms and ideas ranchers have had to adopt as environmental mandates and regulations became part of their business operations without their input. However, the Little Missouri Grazing Association (LMGA) seized a rare opportunity to be proactive, rather than be reactive, to the announcement that the sage grouse was a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Early in 2010, the LMGA requested a meeting with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to learn what LMGA members could do now to preserve what sage grouse habitat they did have and to enhance potential habitat.

In 2010, using NRCS protocol, the LMGA, with USFS assistance, began to establish sage grouse habitat monitoring points throughout North Dakota’s core sage grouse habitat range. Each “point,” a 100-foot transect established in big sagebrush or silver sagebrush plant communities, collected vegetation data that included type and height. This initial data collection is the “benchline,” or snapshot, of habitat quality as it exists today. These permanently established points will be monitored to maintain and enhance habitat if necessary. The ultimate goal is to keep the sage grouse off of the Endangered Species List.

Sage grouse in North Dakota are restricted to approximately 800 square miles in western Bowman County, western Slope County, and southern Golden Valley County.

According to the Management Plan and Conservation Strategies for Greater Sage Grouse in North Dakota (NDGP, 2005), historical loss of sagebrush communities (particularly homesteading and tillage prior to 1972) has contributed to sage grouse population decline. Sage grouse are closely tied to sagebrush communities, particularly big sagebrush, for all their habitat needs, especially food and cover.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) added the sage grouse to the list of species that are candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. Because the USFWS determined that there are other species facing “more immediate and severe extinction threats” the sage grouse will not be placed under “threatened” or “endangered” status until those other species have been studied and analyzed. However, the USFWS will review the sage grouse status annually to determine if sage grouse needs immediate protection.

Much of the core habitat and range area is Dakota Prairie Grasslands administered by the USFS and is leased to LMGA. The LMGA is obliged “to promote, aid, and protect these resources and the livestock industry.” Some LMGA members belong to the local Sage Grouse Working Group in Bowman and Slope counties. This working group has teamed up with NRCS to enhance their own private land for sage grouse, like planting alfalfa in areas where forbs are needed for forage. Several LMGA members are multi-generational ranchers with a rich history and a vested interest to environmentally preserve their land. Taking action now protects landowners from increased regulation should the bird be listed under the Endangered Species Act in the future.

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