Bonnie L Heidel.

Sensitive plant survey in the Sweetgrass Hills, Liberty and Toole Counties, Montana online

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MONTANA
STATE




This "cover" page added by the Internet Archive for formatting purposes



MONTANA STATE LIBRARY



3 0864 0009 8205 1



SENSITIVE PLANT SURVEY IN THE SWEETGRASS HILLS,
LIBERTY AND TOOLE COUNTIES, MONTANA

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT



STATE DOCUMENTS COLLKTIOM

'■-• 2 r) 1397

MONTANA STATE LIBRARY
^^, 1515 E. 6th AVE.
HELENA, MONTANA 59S20



Prepared by:



Bonnie L. Heidel

Montana Natural Heritage Program

State Library Building

1515 E. 6th Avenue

P.O. Box 201800

Helena, MT 59620-1800



Prepared for:

Bureau of Land Management
812 14th Street North
Great Falls, MT 59401



Agreement No. 1422-E950-A1-0006, Task Order No. 24



March 1994



© 1994 Montana Natural Heritage Program



This document should be cited a's follows:

Heidel, B. L. 1994. Sensitive plant survey in the Sweetgrass Hills,
Liberty and Toole counties, Montana. Unpublished report to the Bureau
of Land Management. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena. 44 pp.
plus appendices.



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

New information on four sensitive plant species was collected in
surveying Sweetgrass Hills lands administered by the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) , as follows:

Claytonia lanceolata var. f lava was found in abundance on both
East and West Butte, further corroborating recommendations that
it be dropped from state and federal consideration. Recent
taxonomic research provides the basis for resolving previous
questions on verification of Sweetgrass Hills material.

Halimolobos virqata was relocated on an East Butte BLM tract and
a new population site located incidental to surveys. It is
adventive at the original site on BLM land but a natural
vegetation component at the second site on private land; further
investigation into species' status is warranted.

Ranunculus cardiophyllus was relocated on the West Butte and
found at a new site. The two sites do not extend onto BLH-
administered lands.

Ranunculus pedatif idus was discovered for the first time on West
Butte where it is in a marsh swale basin on BLM-administered
lands.

Two of the four species above are montane or subalpine species, whose
presence in the small outlying montane landforms represented by the
Sweetgrass Hills is taken to further represent the relict nature of
the flora and reflect its diversity.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Funding for this project was provided by the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) , with the assistance of ELM Resource Area personnel in Great
Falls and the State Office in Billings. Landowner access permission
and hospitality are gratefully acknowledged. Cedron Jones produced
the report GIS maps, and the data entry process was aided by Margaret
Beer.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

I. INTRODUCTION 1

II. STUDY METHODS 1

III. STUDY AREA 3

IV. RESULTS 10

SPECIES INFORMATION

A. Claytonia lanceolata var. flava 13

B. Halimolobos virgata 17

C. Ranunculus cardiophyllus 26

D. Ranunculus pedatifidus 35

IV. DISCUSSION 42

V. LITERATURE CITED 43



APPENDIX

Appendix 1. Travel routes

f.ppendix 2 . Element occurrence record printouts
and location maps

Appendix 3. Preliminary flora of the Sweetgrass Hills



TABLES AND FIGURES

Table 1. Sensitive species targets of Sweetgrass Hills survey

Table 2. Sensitive species status recommendations



FIGURES

Figure 1. Sweetgrass Hills study area

Figure 2. Location of Sweetgrass Hills sensitive species

Figure 3. Claytonia lanceolata var. flava near Fred and George Creek

Figure 4. Halimolobos virqata close-up

Figure 5. Halimolobos virqata habitat above Sage Creek valley

Figure 6. Margin of Halimolobos virqata habitat above Sage Creek
Valley. There are a few plants found between tracks,
increasing in numbers and density to right; northward.

Figure 7 . Ranunculus cardiophyllus close-up

Figure 8. Technical illustration of Ranunculus cardiophyllus

Figure 9. Ranunculus cardiophyllus in Potentilla fruticosa - Festuca
idahonis h.t., locally dominated by Phleum pratense

Figure 10. Ranunculus cardiophyllus habitat above Fred and George
Creek

Figure 11. Technical illustration of Ranunculus pedatif idus



I. INTRODUCTION

The relict nature of the montane and subalpine flora of the Sweetgrass
Hills has been considered (Thompson and Kuijt 1976) , and a survey
conducted in the Sweetgrass Hills for sensitive plant species on BLM
lands (Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. 1989). The purpose of
this study was to address sensitive plant species questions raised in
these earlier investigations. Sensitive plant species questions
concerned the nature and extent of twiggy halimolobos (Halimolobos
virgata) and heart-leaved buttercup ( Ranunculus cardiophvllus )
populations and habitat. In addition, question had been raised as to
the identification of the putative Clavtonia lanceolata var. f lava
previously collected from the Sweetgrass Hills, and its taxonomic and
protection status. Ancillary objectives were to augment existing
botanical characterizations of the Sweetgrass Hills.



II. STUDY METHODS

Prior to fieldwork, the Biological Conservation Database maintained by
the Montana Natural Heritage Program was queried for records of BLM
proposed sensitive and watch species (USDI Bureau of Land Management
1993) known from the Sweetgrass Hills vicinity (Table 1). All of
these had also been reported in the study by Western Engineering and
Technology, Inc. (1989), except for one wetland species, the long
sheath waterweed (Elodea lonqivaqinata ) , collected from a nearby
prairie pothole. The study area has not been intensively studied
botanically, so while survey focused on known plants proposed for BLM
sensitive or watch status , consideration was given as well to any
state species of concern (Heidel and Poole 1993) .



Table 1. Sensitive species targets in the Sweetgrass


Hills area


Scientific name/
Common name


BLM status


Heritage
ranks*


Claytonia lanceolata var. flava
Yellow springbeauty


none


G5T1? S3


Elodea lonqivaqinata
*Long-sheathed waterweed


none


G4G5 SI


Halimolobos virqata.
Twiggy halimolobos


watch


G2G3 SI


Ranunculus cardiophvllus
Heart-leaved buttercup


watch


G4 SI



White forms of ClaYtonia lanceolata var. f lava had been collected in
the earlier sensitive plant study (Western Engineering and Technology
1989) , and taxonomic research had been in progress to verify help
determine whether white forms are the same variety as the more
widespread yellow forms of C. 1. var. flava . This taxon represents
unique biological and conservation status circumstances (described on
p. 12).

BlJ-I-administered lands in the Sweetgrass Hills were surveyed for
sensitive species on 29-30 May, 9-11 June and 7-11 July. The area was
traversed on foot in relocating known sensitive species, searching for
other potentially suitable habitat for these species, and visiting all
major habitat types and the range of environmental conditions as
potentially harboring other sensitive species. Appendix A is a map
showing principle travel routes.

Sensitive plant information was collected on sensitive plant survey
forms documenting population size, setting, location, and conditions.
Photographs (35 mm slides) were taken of the plants and their habitats
as weather permitted. Lists were made of all vascular plant taxa
which could be identified. Specimens of sensitive species and other
collections will be deposited at the herbarium at the University of
Montana (MONTU) . Identification was made using Hitchcock and
Cronquist (1973) and Dorn (1984). Identification questions were
pursued in the office using a dissecting scope. Verification by
taxonomic experts was sought for Claytonia lanceolata var. flava ,
verified by J. Stephen Shelly (U.S. Forest Service - Regional Office,
Missoula) and for both Ranunculus cardiophyllus and R. pedatifidus ,
verified by Ron Hartman (Rocky Mountain Herbarium, University of
Wyoming, Laramie).

Landowners were contacted for access permission. All but one access

point from county roads involved crossing private property, so private

lands were traversed though there was no systematic survey done on

them.



III. STUDY AREA

The Sweetgrass Hills are three isolated buttes and associated ridges
located in northcentral Montana near the Alberta border in Liberty and
Toole counties, ca. 140 km (100 miles) east of the Rocky Mountain
Front Range (Figure 1. Sweetgrass Hills study area). As prominent
landmarks, they abruptly jut over 800 m (2500 ft) above the
surrounding plains. They cover a total area of ca. 3,220 ha (8000
acres), collectively referred to as the Sweetgrass Hills, highly
discontinuous across a 34 km (20 mile) distance. The East and West
Buttes are higher and larger than Gold Butte (also called Middle
Butte) , with much more forest cover and BLM-administered land than
Gold Butte, and were the focus of this study.

The Sweetgrass Hills are the most isolated of Montana's island
mountain ranges in their small size and landform discontinuity.
Yet they have an exceptionally diverse flora and vegetation that
include components typically spanning a wide range of elevations and
hydrological conditions. The study area descriptions which follow
highlight previously compiled information, and supplementary
information for understanding the sensitive species significance and
setting uniqueness. The Sweetgrass Hills landmark name implicitly
refers to the three buttes, the focus of this and previous studies.
Reference to the Sweetgrass Hills in the following text will
implicity refer to these landforms unless otherwise stated.

Surface management of the Sweetgrass Hills is split between public and
private ownership (Figure 1. Sweetgrass Hills study area). The
Bureau of Land Management administers the largest single land units on
top of East and West Buttes, totaling roughly 5780 acres (2340 acres),
spanning much of the high elevation habitat. They East and West Butte
BLM tracts are continuous, though intersected by private holdings. The
only other public lands in the Sweetgrass Hills are administered by
the Department of State Lands. Most private holdings are part of
ranching operations that are continuous with the surrounding plains,
or else small mining parcels.

Livestock production is the most widespread land use, and takes place
throughout the widely-accessible Sweetgrass Hills on both private and
public land where there is forage. The area had been selectively
logged for fuel and construction material for surrounding residences
in decades past. New clearcuts are also appearing on private lands,
as noted above Breed Creek on East Butte. The area has a history of
mining that goes back to the discovery of gold on Gold Butte in 1884.
Numerous oil and gas fields have also been developed at the fringes of
the Sweetgrass Hills and surroundings.

Bureau of Land Management lands on East and West Buttes have been
designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) based
on the biogeographic and biodiversity significance documented in
previous studies (Thompson 1978, Thompson and Kuijt 1976, Western
Engineering and Technology 1989) .



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