Sage grouse

A sage grouse spreads its wings in this 2018 file photo.

Ranchers in Garfield, Fergus and Petroleum counties are among those submitting applications to the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program for funds to benefit sage grouse and conserve habitats.

Public comments are being taken on the requests for Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Stewardship Fund dollars for six proposals. 

The Garfield County Conservation District submitted an application for a combined restoration and 30-year term lease on 12,901 acres of the Burgess Ranch in Garfield County near Haxby Point. Restoration work entails reseeding cropland back to native rangeland.

The Petroleum County Conservation District submitted two applications for projects in central Montana. One proposal is for a 30-year term lease on 11,703 acres of the King Ranch. The other proposal is for a combination of restoration work (conifer removal and reseeding cropland to rangeland) and a 25-year term lease on about 5,625 acres of the Gran Prairie Ranch. Both projects are located west of Winnett and would conserve core habitat for the duration of the leases.

The Nature Conservancy submitted an application to enter into a permanent conservation easement with the Willow Basin Ranch to conserve 3,997 acres of core sage grouse habitat in Beaverhead County near Dell.

The Montana Land Reliance submitted two applications to enter into permanent conservation easements with the Sauerbier Ranch on 7,697 acres in Madison and Beaverhead counties near Alder and with the Marc Lewis family on 2,011 acres near Grass Range in Fergus and Petroleum counties, respectively. Both projects would conserve habitat in a core area.

“Habitat conservation is a key component of Montana’s conservation strategy, especially on private lands where most of Montana’s sage grouse live,” said Carolyn Sime, Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation program manager, in a press release. “The purpose of these grants is to maintain, enhance, and restore sage grouse habitats, while at the same time creating mitigation sites that can be used to offset impacts of development elsewhere.”

The 2015 Montana Legislature created the grant opportunity when it passed the Greater Sage Grouse Stewardship Act. During the first Stewardship Fund grant cycle in 2016-2017, about $2.8 million of Stewardship Fund dollars were leveraged with $6.6 million of federal and private funds to conserve 43,148 acres of sage grouse habitat. Approximately $3.2 million is available for the current 2019 grant cycle.

A copy of each scoping notice, along with maps and more information about the proposed project and Habitat Quantification Tool results, is available online at https://sagegrouse.mt.gov/Grants.