New Easements in Montana Protect the Longest Known Sage Grouse Migration Corridor

montana conservation grasslands birds

June 30, 2016

The Nature Conservancy preserves ranching heritage and sage-grass habitat on 16,000 acres of the Carroll ranch with help from the Sage Grouse Initiative

In Montana, 64% of greater sage-grouse habitat is on private land, nearly twice as much as the rangewide average. The Big Sky State supports 18% of the total sage grouse population on the range. As a stronghold for the bird, Montana’s population plays a vital role in connecting habitat with greatly reduced populations to the north (Canada) and east (the Dakotas).

The main threat to the birds here is tilling the native sagebrush sea into cropland. Luckily, on a large chunk of land near Glasgow in eastern Montana, this threat has been erased. Last week, The Nature Conservancy preserved ranching heritage and prime wildlife habitat by purchasing an additional 16,000 acres of conservation easements on the Carroll ranch. That brings the total conserved area on this ranch to 25,000 acres.

“This project contributes to the Conservancy’s larger efforts to keep this working grasslands wilderness intact and working for people and nature,” said Brian Martin, Director of Grassland Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Montana.

carroll easement map nature conservancy

Click the image to see a larger TNC map of the conservation easements that benefit sage grouse in northern Montana.

The land adjoins Montana’s largest proposed prairie wilderness, the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, linking public and private land in a 23-mile-long corridor of uninterrupted, conserved prairie habitat. That’s great news for sage grouse, along with the grassland birds, pronghorn, and swift fox who call this area home.

The Carroll ranchlands cover high quality mixed-grass prairie, wooded draws, wetlands and badlands. These diverse ecosystems are partly why the Carroll property contains the largest number of sage grouse mating leks in the area.

Sage grouse and pronghorn also depend on this property for their twice-yearly migrations. In fact, the Carroll easements are right in the heart of the longest known sage grouse migratory path –- the birds here travel more than 100 miles each way. And these grouse are international travelers, crossing the border where they comprise Canada’s last sustainable sage grouse population.

The NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative and The Conservation Fund both contributed funds to secure these important conservation easements.

“We are excited to have had a part in this easement,” said Lisa Coverdale, NRCS state conservationist for Montana. “The mix of grass and sage-grass habitats on this easement will not only conserve habitat for sage grouse, they will also provide critical habitat for other species. It’s conservation funding well invested.”

Thanks to these landowners and stellar partners like The Nature Conservancy, the spectacular sage-grass sea in Montana will flourish for future generations of ranchers and birds.

Learn more about rangeland conservation easements

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.