Perhaps best known for its globally significant populations of breeding waterfowl, the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) also provides crucial core habitat for imperiled grassland songbirds like Sprague’s Pipit, Baird’s Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur and McCown’s Longspur. Further, the Montana portion of the PPR contains expansive priority habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse. Continentally, each of these species has experienced steep population declines and several have been considered or are candidates for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The majority of grasslands and sage-steppe providing habitat for songbirds and Sage-Grouse are privately-owned, making good stewardship of private lands critical for conservation of at-risk wildlife populations in the PPR and beyond. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) teamed up with The Nature Conservancy of Montana to develop a tool that will remove or reduce threats to species on privately owned ranching and agricultural lands while giving assurances to landowners against further regulatory responsibilities in the event any of the species included in an agreement are listed under the ESA in the future.
The partnership developed Private Landowner Agreements (PLA’s) that address threats to populations and habitats of the four declining grassland songbirds and Greater Sage-Grouse on privately owned ranching and agricultural lands across Montana. The team also developed a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA’s) that provides landowners who voluntarily agree to proactively address threats on their ranches with assurances that they will not face additional land, water, or resource use restrictions in the event of an endangered species listing. The landowners that enroll in a PLA and implement conservation measures to address the identified threats on their properties will be given a Certificate of Inclusion to be covered under the CCAA held by The Nature Conservancy. This innovative, new program will be made available to landowners in Montana in 2016.
For more information, contact Marisa Sather, USFWS, Montana Partners Program