Tuesday, Governor Steve Bullock was joined by representatives from natural resource industries, ranchers, wind power advocates, sportsmen, and conservationists, as he signed an executive order establishing the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program. The Program, which was developed from the ground up, and has broad support from a diverse group of interests, seeks to maintain state management of the Sage Grouse by protecting its habitat, while respecting the private property rights of Montanans.

“Montanans recognize that it is in the best interest of our state, its economy, and our quality of life, to maintain state management of the Greater Sage-grouse,” Bullock said of the executive order. “Through a public process, and the work of a diverse group of stakeholders, we’ve developed a dynamic, and science-based approach to ensure this bird remains under state management, and is not listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

Once established, the Program will work to implement the requirements laid out in the executive order, including a review process for actions that might impact the bird or its habitat, including industry-specific measures. In addition, the order addresses, among other topics:

·         Adopts a comprehensive Program for keeping sage grouse management in the states hands;

·         Recognizes the important role that Montana’s private landowners play in sage grouse conservation and the need for voluntary incentives to help those landowners to stay on the land and preserve vital sage grouse habitat;

·         Creates the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program and the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team, attached to the Governor’s Office, to maintain state leadership, administer the program based on sound science, and continue to bring Montanans together to move sage grouse management forward;

·         Strikes the appropriate balance to preserve the sage grouse and its habitat and protect valid rights and existing land uses and activities; and

·         Ensures that Montana and Montanans will continue to manage this iconic species for the benefit of future generations – and continue to economically prosper from the industries that have existed in sage grouse country.

In addition, the executive order makes it clear that existing land uses and activities are not subject to the order, some uses and landowner activities are exempt from compliance with the strategy, including  county road maintenance, and production and maintenance activities associated with existing oil, gas, communication tower, and power line facilities.