Montana is joining North Dakota and South Dakota as states that plan to curtail sage grouse hunting in response to a continued decline in the game bird's population.
Montana wildlife commissioners on Thursday gave tentative approval to a proposal to cancel or scale back a two-month hunting season slated to open in September.
Hunting advocates strongly oppose a closure, and Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion says less drastic measures are still on the table. Those include shortening the season or limiting how many birds a hunter can shoot.
A final vote is expected in July.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a 2015 deadline to decide if the chicken-sized, ground-dwelling bird needs sweeping federal protections.
Biologists say agriculture, energy development and disease are greater threats than hunting.