Among more than $53 million in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants announced last evening to help protect habitat for threatened and endangered species, Montana was a big winner for native fish, while Colorado was awarded substantial funding to reintroduce the extremely rare black-footed ferret to a safe place.
Montana’s Stimson Forestlands Conservation Project in Missoula County will receive $4 million to fund a conservation easement of more than 9,300 forested acres. The land, adjacent to another easement of 18,700 acres, continues a landscape-scale conservation effort of several years in northwestern Montana aimed at protecting bull trout, Columbia redband trout, mountain whitefish, pygmy whitefish, and westslope cutthroat.
In northwestern Colorado’s Moffat County, $469,540 was awarded for 15,156 acres of the Tuttle Ranch Conservation Easement, which includes a large white-tailed prairie dog complex considered an essential component of the federally endangered black-footed ferret’s habitat.
The ferret’s main prey is the prairie dog, much of whose habitat has been lost through grassland conversion, rodenticide use, diseases, and lack of active management, according to a FWS action plan document.
Of the 48 projects in 17 states that received funding, the Montana grant was the fourth-highest sum awarded.
That money is intended to ensure the availability of high quality riparian and instream habitat, by protecting Stimson Forestlands from development considered to be imminent.
Because of the area’s accessibility in Montana’s northwest corner near Troy, its stunning views, and gently sloping terrain, it is highly vulnerable to subdivision and development, according to the Trust for Public Land.
The funding also is meant to help maintain connectivity between lake, river, and stream systems in the Lake Creek drainage and help native fish species’ adaptation to the effects of climate change, so fish can move to more suitable habitats as water temperatures increase and flow regimes change.
In Colorado, securing the Tuttle Ranch easement “will serve as the catalyst to initiate black-footed ferret reintroduction on this parcel,” a FWS press release stated. “This project will be a model of incentive-based conservation, highlighting how both endangered species management and an active and profitable agricultural operation can coexist.”
The black-footed ferret, the only ferret native to North America, was considered the rarest mammal on the continent roughly a decade ago, before a federal reintroduction program was started in several states, including Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.
The Tuttle Ranch easement also is intended to protect habitat, including a known active lek for greater sage-grouse, and numerous other species identified in the Colorado Wildlife Action Plan as “of greatest conservation need.”
Permanent protection of the property will help to conserve a landscape-scale ecosystem “with wildlife populations rivaled by few places in the United States,” the FWS release asserts.
The federal grants, authorized by the Endangered Species Act, were awarded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund.
They were divided into three categories of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), for land acquisition, planning assistance, and recovery.
HCPs are agreements that allow landowners to undertake activities that may impact listed species, when they agree to conservation measures designed to mitigate the impact of those actions. HCPs may also be developed by a county or state, and may address multiple species.
The Stimson Forestlands came under the category of a HCP land acquisition, while Tuttle Ranch’s grant was for planning assistance. Planning activities aimed at developing HCPs can include baseline surveys and inventories, document preparation, and outreach.
“Ensuring the survival of imperiled species depends on long-term partnerships and voluntary landowner participation,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “The vital funding provided by these grants empowers landowners and communities to safeguard habitat for threatened and endangered species and foster conservation stewardship efforts for future generations.”
The complete list of the 2011 grant awards under these programs is available here.