[caption id="attachment_7637" align="alignright" width="254"] The 2015 Montana Legislature placed $10 million in a special revenue account called the Stewardship Fund. The Stewardship Fund is a source of competitive funding to facilitate free-market mechanisms for voluntary, incentive based conservation on private lands (and public lands as needed) in habitats designated as necessary to conserve sage grouse and maintain state management of the bird.[/caption]

In September 2014, Governor Steve Bullock signed an Executive Order creating the Montana Sage Grouse Conservation Act. SB 261, passed during the 2015 Legislature, implemented the Governor’s Executive Order and created the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team, MSGOT.

Sage Grouse team unveils draft grant requirements for landowners
We have a prime opportunity to demonstrate, through the MSGOT and other conservation efforts, Montana farmers and ranchers have it under control. We’ve been conserving and managing Sage grouse habitat successfully for generations and now we need to put pen to paper and document it. Before the MSGOT can approve any projects, they need to complete the rule making process to actually put SB 261 into action.

MSGOT is seeking public input on the proposed administrative rules and the proposed grant criteria and application. Read the proposed Stewardship Fund grant criteria here, and submit your comments before the January 22 deadline.  Read more about the proposed administrative rules on the Secretary of State’s website here.

MSGOT and their program coordinator, Carolyn Sime, are charged with having the program up and running by next spring—a lofty goal in the world of red tape, comment periods, and deadline extensions. Over the last couple of months MSGOT met multiple times to begin initial rule making and develop eligibility and evaluation criteria for the grant program. Drafts of the eligibility requirements and the grant application were unveiled at the December 15 meeting in Helena.

[caption id="attachment_7641" align="alignright" width="300"] Montana counties with Sage Grouse Core Area designations include: Beaverhead, Madison, Blaine, Phillips, Valley, Fergus, Petroleum, Garfield, McCone, Golden Valley, Musselshell, Treasure, Rosebud, Buster, Fallon, Carter, Powder River, Big Horn, Carbon.[/caption]

In order to qualify for grant funds, a project must be located, in part, within CORE Sage grouse habitat areas and will maintain, enhance, restore, expand, or benefit Sage grouse habitat.

Some examples include:

  • Maintenance, restoration, or improvement of sagebrush health or quality

  • Restoration of cropland to grazing land

  • Modification of fire management to conserve sage grouse habitat or populations

  • Reduction of unnatural safe havens for predators

Public meetings to discuss to Sage Grouse Conservation Plan and Stewardship Fund grants are scheduled throughout the state next month:
• Malta: 3 p.m., January 6 at First State Bank
• Roundup: 2 p.m., January 7 at Ambulance Barn
• Dillon: 6:30 p.m., January 11 at BLM Office

If you would like to submit written comments you can do so by mailing or emailing them to:
Carolyn Sime, Sage Grouse Resource Program Manager
PO Box 201601
Helena, MT 59620-1601

Comments are due by 5 p.m. January 22, 2016.