Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking for public comments on a proposal to extend cattle grazing on a wildlife management area in Hill County for two more years, while a long-term management plan is developed.
A draft of an environmental assessment on continued grazing on the Fresno Reservoir Wildlife Management Area, or WMA, about 23 miles northwest of Havre found that continuing grazing on the site for two years could have minor impacts on soil, vegetation and wildlife, while also providing benefits including better forage quality and habitat, and reduction of fire danger.
It also provides “minor benefits to the local community and economy,” the EA reports. The two years proposed will give FWP time to prepare a more extensive proposal for a management plan of the area, which the state agency leases from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, manages as a Wildlife Management Area and subleases for cattle grazing.
The proposal is for the grazing leases at the Fresno WMA, northwest of Fresno Reservoir on the west side of the Milk River, to continue through Sept. 15, 2014.
Mark Sullivan, wildlife manager in Glasgow for FWP’s Region 6 that includes Hill County, said the agency is doing a review of all wildlife management areas.
In some parts of the state, sportsmen have complained about ranchers leasing grazing on areas designated as wildlife habitat, he said.
“This is a statewide deal,” Sullivan said. “We are doing on all of our wildlife management plans.”
The EA notes that concerns about grazing on WMAs in other parts of the state have arisen in the past, but that local controversy from extending the lease is not expected in Hill County.
Sullivan said the long-term plan may include continued grazing for the Fresno WMA, but that has not yet been determined. Even if grazing is continued, it may not be in the exact same plan.
“There is a good chance something will change,” Sullivan said.
The EA describes the grazing plan, which has been in place for 21 years. In the program, cattle are rotated through three pastures in the WMA. Two are used throughout each season, while the third is allowed to rest until the next season.
FWP opened its public comment period on the EA Feb. 15 and is taking public comments through 5 p.m. Saturday, March 16.
The Draft Environmental Assessment — and other FWP proposals from around the state — can be found on the FWP website at http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/. A copy of the EA may also be obtained by contacting the FWP Havre Area Office at 265-6177 or by emailing email@example.com.
People are asked to send written comments to: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Attn: Fresno Reservoir WMA Grazing Lease Extension, 2165 Hwy 2 East, Havre, MT 59501.
Comments can also be submitted online at the FWP public notices site or emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The public hearing is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at the Hill County Electric Hospitality Room on U.S. Highway 2 west of Havre.