The following is a portion of an article written by Michael Wright posted in the Great Falls Tribune.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified sage grouse as warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but it's precluded by other animals in more trouble. In other words, they aren’t ready to act yet. But a recent court settlement gave USFWS a Sept. 30 deadline to decide to list the sage grouse or not.
Listing the bird would halt energy and agriculture development in the bird’s core habitat areas, which exist mostly east of the Continental Divide and in southwest Montana. Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Moore, R-Miles City, called the threat of listing a form of “federal blackmail” to get the state to act.
Blackmail or not, the conversation got moving. If Montana could come up with a plan, the bird would remain under state control.
Gov. Steve Bullock established the Sage Grouse Conservation Advisory Council in 2013, which included conservationists, energy representatives and legislators. Lawmakers from both parties were in the group, including Hamlett and Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton. With the impending deadline for the listing of the bird, all sensed the urgency.
“We’re responding to a need,” Connell said.
Bullock put their recommendations — with some amendments — into an executive order in September 2014. The executive order created the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program and the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team.
Hamlett is carrying Senate Bill 261, called the Sage Grouse Stewardship Act, the legislation implementing part of the executive order. The bill creates guidelines for the oversight team — it will consist of department heads and a representative designated by the governor, and will report to the governor regularly. It also creates a stewardship account, which will fund both the oversight team and provide grants for conservation easements. Bullock's budget includes a $10 million request for the stewardship account.
The bill puts into law the functions of the oversight team and the money, but the order included several rules for what could be done to land identified as “core habitat” for the birds, areas where they are most dense in number.
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Source: Great Falls Tribune