The Roundup -

Agreement Could Benefit Game Birds, Range Health


A proposed Upland Game Bird Habitat Enhancement Program project between Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and a family ranch near Sidney could benefit game birds and range health, plus create new hunting opportunities.

The Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission endorsed the project June 9 during its June meeting in Dillon. Public comment will be accepted through Friday, June 24, at 5 p.m., and the commission will vote on the proposal during its July 13 meeting.

FWP Region 7 has been working with Veebaray Company Ranches near Enid, about 29 miles west of Sidney. The ranch has been in the family for nearly a century. The project would include water development and fencing to better distribute cattle. The ranch would implement three, three-pasture summer rest-rotation grazing systems on 12,145 acres of the ranch. The intent is to improve native habitats for wildlife, and to provide upland game bird hunting opportunities.

The overall cost would be $369,130, with UGBHEP providing $179,565 and the ranch matching that amount. FWP’s share comes from license money that is earmarked for enhancement of habitat and access. The American Bird Conservancy also would contribute $10,000.

The property has been outfitted and closed to public hunting in recent years. But, if approved, the grazing agreement will include at least 200 hunter days.

The typical contract length is 15 years, but in this case the landowner is required to commit to 21 years based on the project costs. There is a sliding scale for contract length, which is dependent on available program funding. A project exceeding $40,000 calls for 21 years.

“This project is unique in size, contract length and costs,” said Region 7 Upland Game Bird Biologist Jackie Tooke. “All the right habitat components for upland game birds are in place, but the potential for these components to flourish and produce is what really excites me. Not to mention, an opportunity to conserve 12,145 acres for 21 years and provide the public with almost 16,000 acres of upland game bird hunting does not come around often. It is even more rewarding when you take a piece of property that has historically been closed to the public.”

The Veebaray property features extensive woody draws and shrub-grassland habitats, but historic grazing practices limited productivity of these habitats for wildlife. The grazing agreement will improve overall rangeland health and the carrying capacity of the land. Instituting the three pasture, rest-rotational system will improve native plant communities, which will enhance nesting, brood rearing and winter cover for upland game birds. The enhancements will benefit sharp-tailed grouse, partridges, pheasants and turkeys. The proposal was reviewed and endorsed by the Upland Game Bird Advisory Council.


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