“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. “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. Approximately $3.2 million is available. Priority will be given to projects involving partnerships between public and private entities, as well as projects that leverage matching funds. Qualifying projects must be located at least in part on land in designated sage grouse habitats. Higher priority will be afforded to projects located in Montana’s Core Habitat Areas, but projects in General Habitat and the North Valley Connectivity Area that have high resource values will also be considered.
Sime noted potential projects could include reduction of conifer encroachment; restoration or improvement of sagebrush health; restoration of cropland to grazing lands; incentives to reduce conversion of native sagebrush rangelands to other land uses; conservation leases and conservation easements having a minimum duration of 15 years. MSGOT especially welcomes applications for projects that restore or enhance sage grouse habitats or that engage private landowners who ordinarily would not participate directly in mitigation or other habitat conservation opportunities.
Conservation agencies and organizations are eligible to receive funds. Organizations and agencies must hold and maintain conservation easements or leases or be directly involved in sage grouse conservation activities approved by MSGOT. Private citizens are not eligible to receive funds directly and should work with a sponsoring agency or organization.
The application process entails a Pre-Proposal review of the project by the Program. This requires would-be applicants to determine key details about the project in advance to make sure it conforms to requirements of the Stewardship Act and the grant opportunity. This step also allows the Program to review potential projects and provide feedback to would-be applicants to help them decide whether to submit a more detailed Complete Application for MSGOT’s formal consideration.
Completed Pre-Proposal Forms must be received by March 30, 2019, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Details on the application process are available on the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program web site at https://sagegrouse.mt.gov/grants.html. Also, two conference calls to answer questions on the application process will be hosted by Program staff on Thursday, March 7, 2019, from 12 – 1 p.m. and on Friday, March 8, 2019, from 9 – 10 a.m. The call-in number for both sessions is (406) 449-7478, with Conference ID number 2307#.
Interested parties may also schedule a one-on-one call with Program staff. To schedule a call, send a request to CSime2@mt.gov.
Complete Applications will be due in early May 2019. Complete Applications will be reviewed by the Sage Grouse Habitat Program and independent subject matter experts. The Program will also apply the MSGOT-approved habitat quantification tool to determine the quality and quantity of sage grouse habitat within the project area that would be available to offset impacts of development elsewhere.
As required by the Stewardship Act, applications will also be made available for public review on the Program’s web site. MSGOT is expected to select grant recipients during a regularly scheduled public meeting in the fall of 2019.
In the first grant cycle through four projects, Stewardship Account funds conserved 43,148 acres of sage grouse habitat. About $2.8 million from the Account was leveraged with an additional $6.6 million in matching funds from federal and private sources.
The Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program works to sustain viable sage grouse populations and conserve habitat, enabling Montanans to maintain control of their lands, wildlife, and economy by avoiding a listing of the Greater Sage-grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act. The future of sage grouse in Montana will depend on our collective efforts.
Article by Carolyn Sime.