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BLM Releases Updated Sage-Grouse Plans
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on December 6 released the final revisions to the six resource management plans and environmental impact statements that structure greater sage-grouse conservation in seven Western states (Colorado, Idaho, Nevada/Northeastern California, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming). After a 30-day protest period and 60-day governors' consistency review period, this is the final step in the process that began in summer 2017. The RMP amendments state that the purpose is to “enhance cooperation with the States by modifying the approach to Greater Sage-Grouse management in existing RMPs to better align with individual state plans and/or conservation measures and DOI and BLM policy.” Overall, the changes remove protections on most of the 10.7 million acres of what had been termed “sagebrush focal areas”, though protections would remain on almost 2 million focal area acres in Oregon and Montana. In addition, the original no surface occupancy policy remains, though there is increased flexibility to waive that requirement.
“We have appreciated the opportunity to work with the governors to amend to the 2015 plans,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “We know the successful conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse requires the shared stewardship vision of the states, private citizens, landowners and federal land management agencies, including those within the Department of the Interior.”
In general, governors expressed their support for the plan revisions stating that their states worked closely with DOI staff, primarily through the Western Governors Association’s Sage-Grouse Task Force chaired by Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
“Having better alignment between state and federal management for the bird is important to the species and the people of Wyoming,” said Mead in a statement. “I thank the Department of the Interior, both locally and nationally, for working with Wyoming throughout this plan amendment process.”
Hickenlooper added: ““We worked with the Bureau of Land Management and our stakeholders to produce a plan that maintains protection for the sage grouse while balancing the potential impact on local economies. This is a significant step that closes out the planning phase and allows us to begin to see the true conservation efforts that safeguard the sage grouse in Colorado.”
The changes also garnered mixed reviews from conservation organizations
“These new plans are a mixed bag, with some changes addressing legitimate requests from the states to help align with their conservation approaches and other changes stripping back protections for core sage grouse habitat and creating more uncertainty for the West,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in a statement. “Unless the impacts of development are properly mitigated to avoid further habitat loss, sage grouse could easily become a candidate for the threatened and endangered species list yet again. Success will ultimately come down to implementing these new plans to the letter, and never wavering from an approach that produces results for sage grouse populations and other species that depend on the sagebrush ecosystem.”
“We cannot manage grouse at a level where we are only one major event away from having to list the bird,” says Steve Belinda, executive director of the North American Grouse Partnership. “Habitat, particularly on public lands, must be managed to withstand events we cannot control, like drought, fire, and disease, so conservation can be balanced with energy development, grazing, and other human activities we can control.”
A 30-day protest period will close on January 9, 2019; details on how to file a protest can be found on the BLM website.