$1 million in grants to help preserve Montana’s sagebrush ecosystems

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service has approved spending of over $1 million on four Montana projects to restore and conserve sagebrush ecosystems.

Funding includes $500,000 for the Southwest Montana Sage Steppe Resiliency Project in Beaverhead County; $431,500 for sagebrush seed care on the northern Great Plains of Montana; nearly $98,000 to combat threats to sagebrush in the Musselshell Plains; and $70,000 for the treatment of Japanese brome at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

This is the second year of funding for some of the projects. In Beaverhead County, for example, several government and nonprofit groups are working to clear 4,000 acres of conifers encroaching on central sagebrush areas. The work includes restoring 350 acres of habitat near Wisdom. An additional 1,500 acres of invasive annual grasses near the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge will also be treated.

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In Phillips, Valley and Blaine counties, private landowners are working with The Nature Conservancy and Pheasants Forever to provide grazing systems on five ranches totaling 54,713 acres. Conservation agreements with three other ranches cover 23,128 acres. An additional 1,500 acres of marginal cropland will be restored to native vegetation along with 300 acres or approximately 2 miles of riparian land.

In Fergus, Garfield, Petroleum, Musselshell and Golden Valley counties, the Bureau of Land Management works with nonprofit organizations and landowners to establish conservation agreements 48,897 hectares, 1,500 acres of annual grass treatment, 1,000 acres of softwood removal and 400 acres of habitat restoration.

The Montana funding is just a portion of the $10 million set aside for fiscal 2023 from President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. The money will support more than 50 projects in the western federal states.

Projects were selected to address threats to mugwort by allowing stakeholders to work together. The work focuses on intact sagebrush core habitats and propagating the cores outward to restore more degraded areas.

“Sagebrush land, which is a national treasure, supports American agriculture, outdoor recreation and hundreds of species not found anywhere else in the world,” Service Director Martha Williams said in a press release. “This ecosystem serves as the lifeblood for many rural and tribal communities in the West.”

Sagebrush Country covers more than 175 million hectares and is home to more than 350 species in the West, including pronghorn, elk, mule deer and greater sage grouse. America’s sagebrush ecosystem is the largest contiguous ecotype in the United States, encompassing a third of the landmass of the lower 48 states.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Act granted the US Fish and Wildlife Service $10 million per year for five years to expand work with partners to conserve the sagebrush ecosystem.