BLM Proposal Would Expedite Review of Sagebrush Restoration Projects

BLM Proposal Would Expedite Review of Sagebrush Restoration Projects

The Bureau of Land Management announced on March 9 that it was proposing a categorical exclusion (CX) under the National Environmental Policy Act for pinyon-juniper removal and sagebrush restoration projects in the West that are less than 10,000 acres. The proposal aligns with Secretarial Order 3356 Hunting, Fishing, Recreational Shooting, and Wildlife Conservation Opportunities and Coordination with States, Tribes and Territories, which directs the BLM to develop a CX for “proposed projects that utilize common practices solely intended to enhance and restore habitat for species such as sage-grouse and/or mule deer,” as well as Executive and Secretarial Orders to reduce wildfire risk.

“Improving sagebrush ecosystems by removing pinyon-juniper woodland is an established and well-studied practice. If finalized, this proposed categorical exclusion would eliminate needless analysis, so we can more quickly protect and restore sagebrush habitat and reduce the threat of wildfires for the benefit of mule deer, sage-grouse and hundreds of other native species,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

Pinyon and juniper tree cover in sage-steppe habitats has increased 10 times in the last 150 years, now covering more than 74 million acres across the West. The proposal states that, “Following years of experience removing these trees without significant effects, the BLM has identified that establishing a CX for the actions is necessary for expediting maintenance of sagebrush habitats essential to mule deer and sage-grouse.” Actions covered by the proposed CX include: manual or mechanical cutting; mastication and mulching; yarding and piling of cut trees; pile burning; seeding or manual planting of seedlings of native species; and removal of cut trees for commercial products, such as sawlogs, specialty products, or fuelwood, or non-commercial uses. The proposal does not cover cutting of old-growth trees; seeding or planting of non-native species; chaining; pesticide or herbicide application; broadcast burning; jackpot burning; construction of new temporary or permanent roads; or construction of other new permanent infrastructure.

“This draft categorical exclusion, once finalized, will result in the restoration and creation of hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for sage-grouse, mule deer, antelope, and other sage-dependent species,” said Mule Deer Foundation President and CEO Miles Moretti. “This issue has been a top priority for our organization because it will allow MDF and our conservation partners to move quickly on habitat restoration projects absent unnecessary and redundant red-tape. Quality habitat leads to quality hunting and we know our members and other western big game hunters will benefit from the on-the-ground improvements that will result from this policy.”

The proposed changes and Categorical Exclusion Verification Report can be reviewed online and the BLM is accepting comments until April 13.

March 16, 2020