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Montana Teens Help Save Sage Grouse
Boots on the Ground
Field work is always unpredictable. In this case, a storm had dumped torrential rain, thunder and lightning on our camp during the night, and consequently the roads became almost impassable the next morning. The locals have a name for the mud that forms in eastern Montana: gumbo. It’s impossible to describe, but it has been known to swallow cars whole.
The truck that carried my crew: four Montana Conservation Corps Youth high school students along with their two crew leaders, had slid off the road into a steep ditch earlier in the morning. Instances like these serve as a good reminder that the prairie is a beautiful yet unforgiving place. For this reason, I am perpetually in awe of the people and many animal species that call this remote country home. The Youth crew that NWF hired was enthusiastic and hard-working.
“One thing I liked was the tangible aspect of the project- how it’s clear through research that one mile of fence flagged is one saved bird,” said Nate Hess, a MCC crew leader. “Not all projects are like that.”
By the end of the two weeks, NWF along with the MCC youth crew had successfully marked over 20 miles of fence with roughly 30,000 markers. When it comes down to numbers, that means we helped protect at least 20 grouse per year for the life of the markers. And that’s just the start. NWF’s goal is to flag fences surrounding leks and wintering areas across a vast landscape.
The most tangible part of this project was indeed the fence flagged. But after talking with the kids and working with them for several weeks, the education they received in the sagebrush sea was even more valuable.
Most of the participants were not aware the bird existed before this project.
“I’ll actually pay more attention if sage grouse pops up in the news now,” reported one of the MCC crew members.
In addition to MCC crews, NWF hopes to enlist local volunteer groups to mark fences through 2016.
As for the gumbo mud, the roads dried in a few hours and the crew was able to drive out of the ditch later the same day. The crews took the small hiccup in stride. After all, they had already conquered blistering sun, incessant mosquitos, and a curious herd of bison roaming through our base camp – adding to the memories of how they helped save sage grouse in the summer of ’15.
Thank you to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, American Prairie Reserve, and C.M Russell Wildlife Refuge for partnering on this project.
If you would like more information on the project contact Hayley Newman at NWF’s Northern Rockies and Pacific Office.