Montana Audubon

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Support Conservation Easement in Core Sage-Grouse Habitat

Please respond by August 4 – do it today!

Eastern Montana is an important landscape for prairie wildlife. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) is proposing to place a conservation easement on 2,695 acres of key sagebrush habitat located just north of Roy, Montana (which is 30 miles northeast of Lewistown). The Conservation Easement (CE) is known as the Fargo Coulee CE. Specifically:

  • The current landowner of the property, Mark Machler, would like to sell his property. Before he does so, he wants to conserve it in perpetuity through MFWP. Future sale of the ranch to a buyer, without this proposed easement, is a concern since a new owner may change current land uses (including allowing the removal of native plants (sodbusting)).
  • The property is in Sage-Grouse Core Area, which is critical habitat identified by MFWP and the State of Montana. This Core area is 72% private land, so protecting private property habitat is crucial to the long-term conservation of sage-grouse.
  • The property has numerous active sage-grouse leks within a 4-mile radius of the land and the area provides good nesting, brood-rearing, and winter habitat for sage-grouse.

PLEASE take the time TODAY to send MFWP comments in support of the Fargo Coulee Conservation Easement.


WHAT WE ARE ASKING YOU TO DO:

Write Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks TODAY. Comments must be received by Friday, August 4, 2017 at 5:00 pm.  There are two easy ways to send your comments:


SAMPLE COMMENT*

To: Sonja Andersen, Biologist, Fargo Coulee CE, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, PO Box 938, Lewistown, MT 59457

Dear Ms. Andersen,

I am writing to support Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ (MFWP) purchase of a conservation easement as described in the DRAFT Environmental Assessment for the Fargo Coulee Conservation Easement on 2,695 acres of sagebrush, mixed-grass prairie, and riparian habitat, which are all critical habitats in the State of Montana. Specifically I support this project because:

  • The current landowner of the property would like to permanently conserve his property before he sells it. The future sale of the ranch, without this proposed easement, is a concern since a new owner may change current land uses (including allowing sodbusting).
  • The property is located within a Sage-Grouse Core Area and provides important habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse, including numerous active sage-grouse leks within a 4-mile radius of the land and good nesting, brood-rearing, and winter habitat for sage-grouse.
  • This particular Sage-Grouse Core Area is 72% private land, so protecting habitat on private property is especially important.
  • MFWP would purchase the easement on the ranch using Habitat Montana funds and a federal Agricultural Land Easement grant. Neither of these funds can be used for other purposes.

Please recommend the purchase of this easement to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission and the State Land Board. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

Sincerely,

*Helpful Hint: Letters, whether print or email, are more effective if you alter the introductory sentence and/or personalize the letter in some way.


4 REASONS TO SUPPORT THE PROPOSED CONSERVATION EASEMENT:

  1. The Conservation Easement property will protect critical habitat. Most sagebrush-grassland habitat in Montana is privately-owned. In central and eastern Montana, the single greatest threat to this wildlife habitat is cultivation. The CE property consists of 2,601 acres native range (sagebrush-grassland), 2 acres non-native range (weeds), and 91 acres riparian-associated habitats. In addition there are no buildings or cultivated farm ground on the property. The proposed conservation easement would prohibit the removal or destruction of native vegetation, exploration for mineral development (including oil and gas), renting or leasing of the land for commercial recreation (e.g., outfitting businesses), granting of utility easements that are inconsistent with the terms of the CE

    Ferruginous Hawk. Bob Martinka Photo.

    , and more. Although the native vegetation on the property is currently considered in good condition, the CE requires implementation of a rest-rotation grazing system.

  1. The Conservation Easement property provides important habitat for many wildlife species, including Species of Concern. Primary game/furbearer species inhabiting the property and adjoining landsinclude sage-grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, mule deer, pronghorn, bobcat, coyote, red fox, and badger, with elk using lands to the north. Additional species found on the property include: Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Vesper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, assorted waterfowl, other passerines, prairie rattlesnake, and numerous small mammals. Several Species of Concern (in addition to Greater Sage-Grouse) are potentially on the property, including: Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Burrowing Owl, Baird’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, northern leopard frog, hog-nosed snake, Townsend’s big-eared bat, and black-tailed prairie dog.

 

  1. Funding for the Conservation Easement comes from habitat-specific funding sources. MFWP proposes to purchase the easement using Habitat Montana funds and a federal Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) for the protection of fish and wildlife habitats. The Habitat Montana program is designated under state law for MFWP to acquire land or an interest in land. Its ultimate purpose is to conserve Montana’s wildlife populations and natural ecological systems. The money from this program can only be used for wildlife habitat projects and the program must maintain the local tax base through continued payments of property taxes.

 

  1. The Conservation Easement Property will help provide access to key state land. The proposed CE also 1,920 acres of lands owned by the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation that are currently inaccessible to the public. Consequently, the proposed CE would open 4,620 acres for public recreation. All permitted activities would be walk-in only and via public roads. Additional kinds of public recreational activities (e.g., camping) may be allowed with the landowner’s permission.

Protecting privately-owned sagebrush, grasslands and riparian habitats is the best way to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse long-term.


For More Information:

Please send your comments so they are received by Friday, August 4, 2017!

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