Field & Stream Magazine Films “Hero for a Day”: Sage Grouse Volunteers Lend a Hand on Bequette Ranch

May 19, 2014

 See Billings Gazette shorter version of the article here, published Sunday, May 18

(photo: Isiaih Brown, Little Bighorn FFA, volunteers with his team to build and install escape ramps for livestock water tanks).

By Deborah Richie, Sage Grouse Initiative Communications Director

           Dave Bequette couldn’t be happier with the conservation results on his family ranch south of Laurel, after the May 11th “Hero for a Day” volunteer project that will become an online film for Field & Stream Magazine. The release date is tentatively set for late July and will highlight the Sage Grouse Initiative as a win-win solution for ranchers and wildlife.

            “It was a total success,” Bequette said. “They were all wonderful people, and we met our goals too. We are trying to do everything we can here to benefit the grouse and all the upland birds.”

Landowner Dave Bequette, Hero for a Day, near Joliet, Montana (D. Richie, SGI_

Landowner Dave Bequette, Hero for a Day, near Joliet, Montana

 

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Brothers Dakota(left) and Dillon Dosson-alumni of Little Bighorn FFA just placed the escape ramp in the tank. (D. Richie, SGI)

            In one day, 40 volunteers marked three miles of barbed wire fence to prevent sage grouse collisions near leks (breeding grounds). They clipped on white vinyl markers made at COR Enterprises in Billings, a nonprofit industry that provides meaningful work for developmentally disabled adults. Others hammered in long nails on wood fence posts to deter raptors from perching close to the two leks on the ranch.

 The Little Bighorn FFA (Future Farmers of America) from Lodge Grass built and installed eight bird escape ramps in livestock water tanks. The Montana Conservation Corps removed a difficult quarter-mile of partially fallen-down fence that posed hazards for wildlife, including mule deer. Other volunteers planted 100 sagebrush in a burned area. The plants were grown at the Special K ranch near Billings that, like COR Enterprises, helps disabled adults.

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Tim Griffiths, SGI national coordinator for NRCS, is interviewed by Field & Stream for Hero for a Day (freshly marked fence behind him on the Bequette Ranch (D. Richie, SGI)

            Tim Griffiths, Sage Grouse Initiative national coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, gave the overview to the volunteers. He spoke against a dramatic backdrop of windswept range with a low-slung rock building on the far hillside marking the original Baquette homestead.

            “What works for sage grouse is simple,” Griffiths said. “They need large, intact sagebrush habitats and that’s why sustainable ranching is a win-win for landowners and the bird.”

            In four years, the Initiative has enrolled roughly 1000 ranchers who have willingly stepped up in 11 western states to put conservation projects on 6000 square miles of important sage grouse habitat, or about twice the size of Yellowstone National Park, Griffiths said. Those efforts are adding up to change the story for a bird that’s lost half its habitat and has seen population declines of 90 percent rangewide. Projects range from conservation easements that prevent subdivision to prescribed grazing for increased nest success and removing invasive conifers.

            While the Bequette ranch lies outside Montana’s highest priority sage grouse habitats, it is home to both sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse that will have a better chance of survival after Saturday’s work.

            Bob Marshall, the conservation editor for Field & Stream and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist based in Louisiana, interviewed participants throughout the day for the film.

Bob Marshall, Field & Stream Conservation Editor, tells the group about Hero for a Day as away to help on the ground and inspire others to volunteer for wildlife. (D. Richie, SGI)

Bob Marshall, Field & Stream Conservation Editor, tells the group about Hero for a Day as away to help on the ground and inspire others to volunteer for wildlife. (D. Richie, SGI)

            “Hero for a Day is a chance to honor the landowners and the volunteers who are conserving habitat and to inspire others to step up to help wherever they live,” Marshall said. He and the team spent Friday filming at COR Enterprises and Special K ranch before heading out to the Bequette Ranch.

Montana Conservation Corps removes an old fence on the Bequette Ranch. (Field & Stream photo)

Montana Conservation Corps removes an old fence on the Bequette Ranch. (Field & Stream photo)

            Bruce Waage who serves as the NRCS/BLM liaison for sage grouse orchestrated the several-pronged events, working closely with Bequette who offered a cooler full of sandwiches for the group.

            “Dave is a real pro-bird landowner who grew up watching sage grouse display on his land and wants his son and wife and grandkids to have that opportunity too,” Waage said.

            Down in a far draw by a livestock watering tank, the Little Bighorn FFA group wrestled a heavy cutting torch and press from the back of a pickup truck. Livestock tanks can be deadly for heavy birds like sage grouse that fly in for a drink and can’t get out the slick sides. A sturdy piece of metal grate bent to specifications and installed in a tank gives birds traction to climb out.

            Isiaih Brown, 15, the youngest FFA member there rose at the crack of dawn and spent the day volunteering.

            “I always want to be outdoors,” he said. “I like to raise animals and fix fences and do projects like this.”

            His father Pernell Brown works at the Lodge Grass school and is proud of the FFA and especially his son Isiaih, who he added is an excellent tractor driver and metal welder too.

Little Bighorn FFA crew bends the metal into the right shape for an escape ramp. Left to right: Dakota Dosson, Tori North Piegan, Dillon Dosson, Pernell Brown, Isiaih Brown. (D. Richie, SGI)

Little Bighorn FFA crew bends the metal into the right shape for an escape ramp. Left to right: Dakota Dosson, Tori North Piegan, Dillon Dosson, Pernell Brown, Isiaih Brown. (D. Richie, SGI)

            “Our FFA helps the community ranchers as much as we can,” he said, “It’s our way of giving back to them,” noting that ranchers near Lodge Grass donate a steer every year for the group to raise.

            Tori North Piegan is the vice president of the Little Bighorn chapter and high school sophomore.

            “I’ve grown up around ranching,” she said as she held the metal grate in place while Isiaih measured, “but only since I discovered FFA in eighth grade did I have a passion for agriculture.”

            A mile away from the livestock tank, volunteers walked a fence line with packs full of vinyl markers, clipping them on the top strand at three-foot intervals.

Melissa Griffiths with her son Mason puts up fence markers. (D. Richie, SGI)

Melissa Griffiths with her son Mason puts up fence markers. (D. Richie, SGI)

The selected fences are in the vicinity of two sage grouse leks, where birds are likeliest to strike wires when males fly in at low angles in pre-dawn hours.         Marking fences can reduce collisions by 83 percent, according to University of Idaho research.

            Sam Johnson saw the article about Hero for a Day in the Billings Gazette and decided it beat building his home deck that day. He’s an avid hunter who brought his two dogs Leah and Casey along.

            “If we can help the landowners help the birds, it’s in the interest of both sage grouse and hunting,” he said as he snapped on another white marker into place.

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For more information:
Field & Stream Hero for a Day

Fence Marking & Livestock Tank Escape Ramp Info on SGI Website

PHOTO GALLERY FROM SGI HERO FOR A DAY

Montana Conservation Corps signs in for Hero for a Day. (D. Richie, SGI)

Montana Conservation Corps signs in for Hero for a Day. (D. Richie, SGI)

Sagebrush seedling planting in an old burn (Field & Stream photo)

Sagebrush seedling planting in an old burn (Field & Stream photo)

Pete Husby, NRCS state biologist, joins the volunteer day too, planting sagebrush seedlings and later installing perch deterrent nails on post. In background is landowner Dave Bequette planting sagebrush too. (Field & Stream photo)

Pete Husby, NRCS state biologist, joins the volunteer day too, planting sagebrush seedlings and later installing perch deterrent nails on post. In background is landowner Dave Bequette planting sagebrush too. (Field & Stream photo)

Volunteer Sam Johnson measures 3 feet spacing to place fence marking on a barbed wire fence. (D. Richie, SGI)

Volunteer Sam Johnson measures 3 feet spacing to place fence marking on a barbed wire fence. (D. Richie, SGI)

Madison Griffiths shows the fencemarker she just snapped into place. ( D. Richie, SGI)

Madison Griffiths shows the fencemarker she just snapped into place. ( D. Richie, SGI)

Field & Stream films the project map. (D. Richie, SGI)

Field & Stream films the project map. (D. Richie, SGI)

Pernell Brown and his son Isiaih Brown, Little Bighorn FFA (D. RIchie, SGI)

Pernell Brown and his son Isiaih Brown, Little Bighorn FFA (D. Richie, SGI)

 

Ranch dog enjoys Hero for a Day (D. Richie, SGI)

Ranch dog enjoys Hero for a Day (D. Richie, SGI)

Deborah Richie, SGI, marks fences (photo: Sam Johnson)

Deborah Richie, SGI, marks fences (photo: Sam Johnson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.