Forest Service Releases Amendments to Sage Grouse Plans

Forest Service Releases Amendments to Sage Grouse Plans

On August 1, the U.S. Forest Service announced their proposed changes to land management plans affecting sage grouse in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah. The agency noted that they have heard concerns that the plans made in 2015 did not align with state conservation plans and could impact economic growth. As a result, they began a process to increase collaboration with diverse stakeholders at the state and local level to better align plan changes with stakeholder knowledge.

“The Forest Service continues to promote our multiple use mission while ensuring conservation of greater sage grouse habitat,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “We are sharing the stewardship of the lands with western state governors – their extensive participation throughout this process was the key to landscape-scale conservation that aligns our policies and practices across local, state, and federal jurisdictions.”

The amendments allow for “greater flexibility and local control of conservation and management actions” for sage grouse. In part, this includes revising grazing guidelines away from specific grass-height standards to locally-driven assessments that adjust grazing if it is limiting sage grouse habitat conditions. In addition, the preferred alternative changes the “net conservation gain” standard for mitigation to a “no net loss of habitat” standard. The proposed revisions also eliminate sagebrush focal areas, adjust some habitat management area boundaries, modify lek buffers, and emphasize invasive plant treatments within priority habitat management areas. The plan amendments are state specific and take into account the state sage grouse plans developed through local sage grouse collaboration efforts. While the changes reduce acreage in habitat management areas in some states, there are increases in acreage in other states; overall the proposed alternative would have a reduction of 200,400 acres primarily in Wyoming and Nevada.

The final environmental impact statement was published in the Federal Register opening a 60-day objection period, after which the agency plans to issue a final decision on the revised plan amendments.

August 16, 2019