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Montana Signs Cooperative State-Federal Sage Grouse Protection Plan

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has signed an agreement to work cooperatively with federal and state officials to preserve greater sage grouse habitat on working rangelands.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana Inc.

The MOU emphasizes that preserving the greater sage grouse is a priority (see Daily GPIMay 19).

Montana is one of 10 western states where officials oppose the grouse being listed on the Endangered Species Act, which could happen as soon as September (see Daily GPIDec. 30, 2011). The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service recently released 14 final environmental impact statements for proposed land use plans on public lands in those same states (see Shale DailyMay 28).

"Our economy, and our Montana way of life, depends on all of us working together to ensure a bright future for the grouse and a continued thriving economy," Bullock said.

NRCS Chief Jason Weller said the MOU should streamline and coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts on private lands in Montana, where 70% of the grouse habitat is.

The agreement, said Weller, builds on the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) partnership, “which is living proof that wildlife and agriculture can coexist and thrive in harmony. The steps we’re taking to improve habitats and outcomes for sage grouse and other wildlife are good for cattle, good for ranching operations, and good for America's rural economy.”

NRCS has since 2010 enrolled more than 1,100 ranchers in programs designed to conserve more than 4.4 million acres of habitat across 11 western states. To date, NRCS has invested $296.5 million in conservation through the SGI.

As part of that initiative, the report "Success on the Range" highlights how SGI has conserved an at-risk species "through voluntary cooperation, incentives and community support,” Weller said.

Bullock emphasized that the best possible outcome is to keep sage grouse management in state control, echoing sentiments expressed by all of the western governors in recent years. He signed an executive order last year to create a state sage grouse oversight team, and legislation passed earlier this year (SB 261) established a stewardship account.

"The governor and his staff are committed to effectively implementing the act and administrating state funding for the sage grouse conservation program," a Bullock spokesperson said. "Through signing the MOU, Bullock has signaled that innovative partnerships with private landowners on working rangelands are essential to sage grouse conservation."

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