Montana sportsmen support sage-grouse conservation

Nov. 19, 2014 – A new poll shows that Montana sportsmen and women want to protect greater sage-grouse habitat because protecting the sagebrush landscape will protect hunting opportunities and other uses of the public lands.

The findings released Wednesday by the National Wildlife Federation show that more than 90 percent of Montana hunters surveyed believe it’s important to protect the bird’s habitat. They were among a majority of hunters surveyed in 11 Western states who back plans to conserve important habitat to maintain state management of the greater sage-grouse and avoid the restrictions that would follow if it’s declared an endangered species.

“A strong, science-based state plan to conserve this species will help us keep the bird off the federal Endangered Species list.  If we do this right, it can be a win-win-win for hunting, ranching, and responsible energy development,” said Dave Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation executive director.

Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed a plan to limit some activities in core sage-grouse habitat and establish a fund to protect and enhance habitat on private lands.

“As sportsmen, we understand that if the greater sage-grouse is in trouble and steps aren’t taken to turn things around, the effects will ripple across the landscape. Many other critters depend on the same habitat and sportsmen rely on access to those lands. It’s essential that we’re proactive and all work together to conserve sage-grouse and maintain the use of our public lands,” said John Borgreen, a Great Falls resident and member of the Russell Country Sportsmen Association.

The BLM and several Western states are developing plans to conserve the sage-grouse, whose numbers have been declining for years because of loss of habitat to urban growth, oil and gas drilling, invasive species and other factors.

Under a court-ordered settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until next year to decide if the plans will provide the protections needed to stem the bird’s decline or if it should be placed on the Endangered Species List.

The chicken-sized bird with spiky tail feathers and a showy mating dance occupies roughly 56 percent of its historic range.

The majority of its habitat is on BLM-managed lands stretching across 11 Western states, except in Montana, where approximately 65 percent of sage-grouse core habitat is on private land. Total population estimates range from 200,000 to 500,000 birds across the West.


“Similar to livestock, the sage-grouse is symbolic of the West.  Our agricultural economy in the West is dependent on our ability to graze cattle,” said rancher Brett DeBruycker of Dutton.  “Healthy landscapes and conserving sage-grouse will go a long way toward maintaining abundant wildlife populations for hunters and wildlife lovers, and assuring Montanans’ ability to raise cattle. This in turn will be a stabilizing force for Montana’s economy.”
The poll conducted by Southwick Associates for NWF shows a majority of sportsmen and women in 11 Western states agree. Among the results from the survey of 1,335 hunters between Sept. 23 and Oct. 3 are:

  • Nine out of ten hunters believe it is important to take action to protect sage grouse habitat within their state. Moreover, 84 percent of hunters support steps by the BLM to protect critical sage grouse habitat by responsibly managing development and grazing on public lands to restore and repair critical sage grouse habitat.
  • Hunters generally link protection of sage grouse habitat with maintaining healthy populations of other wildlife species. About 81 percent of hunters are at least somewhat convinced that steps taken to protect the sage grouse, such as maintaining large tracts of undisturbed lands or limiting resource extraction activities, also benefits other game species that share the same habitat (e.g., elk, mule deer, pronghorn) and preserves hunting traditions that have been long associated with the American West.
  • Nearly 79 percent of the respondents had fished or hunted on public land in their state in the past year.

The survey of Western hunters comes on the heels of a recent report showing minimal overlap between important greater sage-grouse habitat and existing energy leases and rights of way and that 73 percent to 81 percent of areas with medium to high potential for energy development are outside the bird’s habitat. A recent analysis found that recreation on BLM-managed sagebrush lands generated more than $1 billion in economic benefits in 2013.

Southwick surveyed the 1,335 randomly selected sportsmen and women in the following states: Montana, Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Idaho. The poll’s margin of error is 2.7 percent.

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Alec Underwood

Federal Conservation Campaigns Director

Alec is responsible for developing and implementing MWF’s federal conservation advocacy and policy campaigns to protect Montana’s fish and wildlife. He spends most of his free time hunting big game and fly fishing Montana’s cherished trout rivers. He also enjoys backpacking, skiing, photography, and woodworking.