Minutes

Click here for the minutes of the November 16, 2016 Crawford Area Gunnison Sage-Grouse Working Group meeting.

Minutes of Nov. 16th, 2016 Crawford area Gunnison sage-grouse working group meeting

Attendees: Mark Brennan, Missy Siders, Doug Ouren, Nate Seward, Tanya Banulis, Bill Day, Robbie LeValley, Mark Roeber, Stuart Sinclair, Joe Ogelsby, Dean Witten, Doug Homan

BLM RMP GUSG amendment plan

After introductions, Doug H. began discussions on the BLM plan amendment for Gunnison sage-grouse. He said that he read the whole plan, attended the BLM open house on the plan and made notes on comments he planned to make as a retired District Wildlife Manager, not as representative of the working group. He asked the group if they wanted to make comments as a group. It was decided that each individual or agency should make their own comments since as a group some comments may differ. Bill Day asked Doug to go through his comments which was done. Doug mentioned to the group that the comment period was extended to Jan. 9th, 2017. He said that overall the plan amendment was good but that there were certain things specific to Crawford on which he would comment. Some of the concerns voiced by those at the meeting were elk impact on BLM GUSG habitat and predator control. Missy stated that it depends on which plan is completed first.  If the GUSG amendment is completed first, that plan will be incorporated into Uncompahgre RMP.  If the Uncompahgre RMP is completed first, the GUSG amendment will amend the Uncompahgre RMP.  Ultimately, for those areas covered by the GUSG amendment, that decision will be how those lands are managed.

USFWS recovery plan

Mark Brennan talked about the USFWS recovery plan and said a recovery outline has been drafted as a step in the recovery plan process to have a place holder to direct recovery activities.  The USFWS recovery outline will still be primarily based upon the state Rangewide Conservation Plan, but will include any updated scientific information and recommended changes to management guidelines based upon this new scientific information.  The finalization of the recovery outline is on hold, pending the incorporation of information from some recently completed and soon to be completed research on GUSG. 

The Service also has a new recovery planning process being conducted, called the Species Status Assessment (SSA)/Recovery Plan Implementation (RPI), resulting in an intensive scientifically based analysis of the species needs, threats to the species, future potential scenarios and modeling based on science. It is not a decision making document but a scientific foundation which will be used with the final recovery plan. Any other decisions such as Section 7 consultations and doing 5 year status reviews will use the SSA as a reference point. The Service is using all available GUSG science plus the extensive body of Greater sage-grouse science to complete the assessment. The SSA will include sub-population size and connectivity analysis.  It will also include a population priority analysis to determine which populations are threatened more by any individual threat or stressor.  This will give the partners in the recovery effort some guidance as to how to address those threats in planning their recovery efforts. 

As specific sections of the SSA are completed, stake holders like the working groups will be contacted for input and comments. It is an internal document that the Service will use as a foundation in the development of future GUSG decision documents of public record.  Therefore the SSA won’t be listed in the Federal Register.  Information requested from working groups will include any known scientific information on sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat missing in the draft SSA and updates on any conservation measures that have been completed, are currently being implemented, and are planned for the future by the working groups. The USFWS will continue to support those efforts and give any technical support requested. This SSA process is scheduled to be completed within a year. This will all be part of the new RPI process.

State Action Investment Plan

Doug H. had requested information the State Action Investment Plan directed by the 11 County Coalition but hadn’t received anything. Robbie and Mark Roeber were asked to providean update what plan. Mark said the group hasn’t met since August. They brought in people from the Bi-State (California and Nevada) to talk about what they had done. They didn’t present anything that the players in the Gunnison sage-grouse population haven’t done. There hasn’t been any significant process. All 11 counties committed to similar regulations for housing, oil & gas and planning.

Elk ranch habitat improvement & conservation easements

Doug H. stated that he talked to Corey Kanuckel about the elk ranch habitat improvement. Corey has concern about the 8’ posts that still exist and that they provide a perch for raptors. Partners for wildlife would like to see those posts cut down to 4’ and also remove the woven wire that still exists on the bottom 4’ of the posts. He has talked to Ken Holsinger, BLM, about using the prison crew to do the work. Tanya said that the prison crew would be available to do all the labor, Partners for Wildlife would cover the cost of all the materials and Marcella Fremgen with the RMBO has $2000 to do all the fence modification. Robbie said that the landowner asked if there would be a federal nexus on the property and she was told at the meeting that no federal dollars would be involved. BLM just facilitates and may provide tools. Corey said that there 24000’ fence that needs to be modified. The fence would be modified at a time when the grouse were not present (April) so there is not be a need for consultation with USFWS. Therefore, there would not be a federal nexus related to that. Robbie stated that she has never seen grouse mortality on the elk ranch due to fence. While discussing grouse mortality from fences, Missy stated that all the fences on the Green Mountain Allotment BLM grouse habitat have been marked with vinyl markers by the prison crew. BLM will start to work on marking the other adjacent allotments. Other things that Corey mentioned was mountain shrub treatments and gully erosion but haven’t gone into detail on those projects. Corey said he needed more information about the grouse use on the elk ranch. He was told that grouse have been tracked in the elk ranch and radios picked up from there. Doug O. stated that the elk ranch is key (based on his study). Tanya stated that Corey and Marcella need more information on what the grouse use is, treatments that have been done and what the eco site is before they look for more funding. Mountain shrub treatments done on the LeValley parcels for the old elk ranch were initially successful but have begun to be overgrown again by oak brush and serviceberry. There was no chemical treatment done at that time and should considered for future treatments. Grazing by sheep has little effect because of the height of the oak brush and serviceberry due to re-growth.

Nate stated that he worked with Mark Good who owns several parcels within the elk ranch and another parcel owner, Nelson, to submit an application with CPW for a conservation easement. Both of those applications were denied. Nate believes they would qualify for easements through NRCS. Tanya said that NRCS has $1.7 million for sage-grouse easements and $427,000 for sage-grouse habitat improvements but it has to be on eligible land that has agricultural use. Robbie said that Susan Lohar is still trying to secure a conservation easement on the rest of the elk ranch owned by the major landowner.

USGS Presentation

Doug O. gave a “slide” presentation on his research project. 1st slide was a picture of the first grouse caught at night and fitted with a radio. The problem statement for the project is there was only anecdotal and little radio tracking information on the Crawford population movements and habitat use. The Crawford study is about 65,000 acres in total area, 765 miles of roads, multiple use landscapes and land ownership. A short lived VHF radio collar study was done with 4 females and 3 males lasted only 2 years in 1999-2000. Population is variable from 75 grouse in 2009 to 320 grouse in 1999. Question is what happened between 1999 and 2009? In that time, the 3 yr. average is 99 grouse and 4-5 known active lek sites when the study was started. A chart showed a drop in precipitation with a drop in lek count numbers. Temperature since 1965 to 2015 in the Green Mountain area has increased by 3° F average and a 4 day earlier shift in plant maturation. He showed a slide of a snow fence as a pilot study to increase snow cover longer and provide more soil moisture throughout the year. Grouse location data showing 50,000 locations covering 42,000 acres by season and land management status indicts that during breeding season most activity is on BLM lands. During late brood rearing season, there is a lot of locations on the elk ranch and Doug O. is convinced that is one of the keys to the Gunnison sage-grouse conservation in the Crawford population.

One thing USGS is looking at and writing paper about is the effectiveness of lek disturbance buffers. In the RCP, there are .6, 2 & 4 mile lek disturbance buffers. During brood rearing season there is a large amount of activity beyond the 2 mile buffer and some extent beyond the 4 mile buffer. During breeding season, 70% of female grouse activity is within the .6 mile lek buffer, 28% is between the .6 buffer & the 2 mile buffer and the rest (2%0 is outside the 2 mile buffer. For males, there is an intensity of use in .6 mile buffer during breeding season, a little bit in the 2 mile buffer and a little bit of use in the 4 mile buffer. The chart on the slide showed the importance of the old elk ranch during late brood rearing. Females during late brood rearing show 40% within the .6 buffer, 35% between the .6 buffer & the 2 mile buffer and 25% beyond the 2 mile buffer. Going into winter, grouse move back towards the leks. Doug O. stated that the 2 mile buffer was extremely important during late brood rearing and success.

USGS also looked at the utilization of vegetative treatments. Grouse are clearly selecting the old plow & seed treatments that were done in 1983 and in the 1940’s. There is not a high selection by season use for some of the treated areas. Missy stated that Ken Holsinger’s Habitat Assessment Framework data shows that there are crested wheatgrass height’s in the plow & seed areas that meet the RCP guidelines.

Nest site analysis is being done even though there is only one actual nest site location. Location data was looked at during the nesting period and clustered groups where there was little movement showed 15 sites that represented nesting activity. Average distance from C-77 during breeding season is 625 meters. Selection for nest sites is further away from C-77 road than it is randomly across the leks. Locations show that there are no nest sites between Range Cone lek and Dam lek. There are more spotty trees (P/J) in that area. Nest site fidelity from year to year is about 1.2 k in the Crawford area. In Gunnison, it is about 300-350 m. Data for Greater sage-grouse is 2.5 k with some studies show up to 25 k between yearly nest sites and 22 k for re-nesting.

Winter elk concentration use and grouse use were analyzed. Data shows that there is a lot of elk use that grouse use for nesting. There is a 52% overlap of core elk winter range with core grouse breed areas.

There is no baseline data for predators in the Crawford area sage grouse population. USGS is interested in collecting baseline information on predators in that population such as timing of predation and fluctuation of alternate prey species. There are mammalian and corvid predators in the area. USGS and BLM started a camera trap study. There were some predators captured on camera but also a lot of elk. Christmas bird counts compared with Crawford grouse numbers show ravens going up and grouse going down (until 2009). USGS & BLM did corvid surveys last year (2016) from April until August:  One transect in the heart of grouse nesting habitat; one transect in adjacenthabitat (Black Canyon Road). Corvid activity was highest in the area of Green Mountain Allotment further west then grouse activity. Corvid surveys will be continued to see how activity looks over several years.  There are 7 cameras deployed in grouse concentration areas but it’s too early to determine any information at this time. BLM has received funding to deploy more cameras.

USGS completed a lek site probability modeling funded by the Audubon Society and published a report. The average distance for the known leks was less than 50 m and average distance to roads across the landscape was 250 m in the Crawford grouse habitat. Through sampling by transecting those areas that matched the know lek criteria, four new areas of concentrated grouse use have been identified. Two of those areas are considered new leks and the other two are lek extensions of existing leks. Males stay near existing leks during breeding season and females move around. Females avoid C-77 road but not all the other side roads in the habitat. Eight of the 13 nest sites are in areas of vegetation treatment. One of the more attractive manmade features for grouse is the waterline where it seeps and provides herbaceous vegetation and grasses for cover. Doug O. continues to state the importance of the elk ranch in the life cycle of the Crawford area Gunnison sage-grouse. USGS is working on spatially explicit resource selection models –areas on the landscape defined by its bio-physical make-up as its importance to Gunnison sage-grouse. The problem is getting a map that is high enough resolution by a smaller pixel. USGS would also like to do a diet analysis but needs more funding.

Special Guest, Dave Stoudt – The Public Lands Foundation

Through BLM Acting Field Officer, Dana Wilson’s efforts to nominate the Crawford working group, The Public Lands Foundation awarded the Crawford area Gunnison sage-grouse working group the Landscape Stewardship Award. Mr. Stoudt presented the award at the working group meeting which was represented by a plaque and a commendation letter. There was a competition of a number of groups in a number of states. (Editor Note: The details of the award were sent out on a separate email so it won’t be repeated here).

Recent BLM habitat work

Missy gave a “slide” presentation on habitat work the BLM has done recently. BLM has done a lot of habitat work for Gunnison sage-grouse in the Crawford area since 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, 2700 acres have been hydro-axed, 1500 acres of slashing (chainsaw) and 650 acres of restoration seeding. Last year, 95 acres slashing were done. This fall there a 203 acre area slated for hydro-axing. Areas treated had a sage brush and grass/forb understory.

In 2015, for brood rearing habitat, 80+ zeedyke structures were built in 86 acres and this year another 80+ structures were built in 84 acres by Range Cone lek and Fruitland #1 lek, respectively. Addition structures will be built in 2017 north and west of section 35 lek. There was some evidence of increased vegetation growth from last year’s structures it was minimum due to lack of summer rain.

This summer BLM mowed (brush beat) 7.5 acres of lek habitat. Areas “mowed” were a portion of Range Cone lek (4 acres) and Section 35 (1+ acres) plus 1.5 acres at Summit (Sec. 35 Satellite) and 2 half acre sites south of Dam lek which were identified by USGS data. Cameras will be installed on the new possible leks.

The BLM this summer had the prison crew mark fences with white vinyl markers which is most of Green Mountain allotment. A total of 11.5 miles of fence has been marked since 2013. There is a little more to do when a portion of the fence is re-aligned. When done, it will be expanded out to neighboring allotments that are within a certain distance to leks.

On the portion of C-77 road that is the responsibility of BLM and not Montrose County, two low water crossing were built to prevent erosion downstream and five are scheduled for the coming year. These crossing act like a filter dam which allows water to go through but collects the sediment to prevent mud holes. The Habitat Assessment Framework headed by Ken Holsinger is almost finished. That data was used in much of the USGS work.

Next year, BLM will be trying to finish the Gunnison Gorge Grazing permit renewal. The draft EA will be out in January for review. Biological assessment and public comments will be addressed and the document should be done by Fall 2017. More lek mowing and zeedyke structures are planned plus sage-brush maintenance (slashing). Travel management will just get started which will involve the NCA.

Predation

Joe Ogelsby asked to be put on the agenda to talk about predation. Joe feels that originally that Gunnison sage-grouse in the Crawford area “didn’t have a problem but once it was studied the number started dropping”. He felt that in the mid-80’s that raptors increased and predators moved in coinciding with the reduction of federal coyote control.  He asked if the USFWS is addressing predation. Mark B. said predation is one of the topics dealing with the level of impact on the grouse population however, there is no tool identified to do predator control. Right now USFWS is analyzing the science to see impacts exist and not working on predator control as a management tool. Once they decide if predation is a factor, they will develop an action to address it. Joe asked if BLM is addressing predation and Missy said BLM is responsible for vegetation & habitat and not wildlife management. Joe asked if other areas were doing predator control and what was the result. The San Miguel population did a study and Nate said it was a short term study and chick survival by a couple of weeks. The study was focused on coyotes but there are other predators that have an effect. Joe asked what one thing caused the major mortality of grouse and Nate offered several such as lack of moisture, number of people out there, degradation of habitat plus predators. Nate said most managers feel that habitat improvement is the long term solution. Predator control is a short term fix. Doug O. reiterated that USGS and BLM are trying to get baseline information on predators before managers agree to a control program. BLM and USGS are trying to get data on predators using the camera traps. BLM and USGS have tried for three years to fending for predator baseline study and this next year BLM has funds to begin a study.

InterMountain West Joint Venture grant

Doug H. shared with the meeting that Inter-Mountain West Joint Venture grant application that the working group in conjunction with the San Miguel working group and Montezuma Land Conservancy submitted through Un/Com was not funded. He passed around a letter received from IWJV that stated that 27 entities applied but only 13 were granted funding. Other grants were applied for but not granted. Many grants will fund projects but not pay for administration.

Un/Com and its future

Doug H. related that Un/Com has received money from the US Forest Service and BLM. The Forest Service money is earmarked for specific projects and so is the BLM money. Un/Com takes a certain percentage of those monies to fund Un/Com administration. With the funds coming in, Un/Com may be defunct by 2018. Since the working group uses Un/Com as the 501(c) tax entity, the working may not be able to continue to operate accepting funds. Un/Com is out of funds for the working group since June 2016 and the coordinator position has been volunteer since that time. The coordinator may or may not want to continue in the status in the future. Black Canyon Audubon Society has considered some funding but wanted to wait to see if IWJV grant was funded. BCAS and Delta County will possibly consider funding for the position.

Roundtable

Doug O. offered to supply any data and analysis to help in securing an easement on the elk ranch. Robbie said that Susan Lohar is very aware of the importance of the elk ranch to the Crawford population of Gunnison sage-grouse in her efforts to secure an easement.

The group agreed to have another meeting in late February or early March to discuss lek counts organization and other pressing issues.

Robbie requested that Doug O. send his presentation and data to the whole working and he agreed.