Forest Service Proposes Revisions to Sage-Grouse Conservation Plans

Forest Service Proposes Revisions to Sage-Grouse Conservation Plans

The U.S. Forest Service released an environmental impact statement (EIS) on October 5 that proposes changes to land-use management plans affecting sage-grouse on 5.23 million acres of habitat on Forest Service lands. The preferred alternative outlined in the EIS states that, “This alternative was developed to promote continued collaboration with the BLM, states, and stakeholders to improve management, compatibility, and consistency between federal management plans and other plans and programs at the state level, and to continue to provide protection of GRSG habitat.”

The preferred alternative includes proposed changes to the management plans developed during the 2015 listing decision process. The specific changes are:

  1. Areas designated as sagebrush focal areas (SFAs) will be eliminated and designated as Priority Habitat Management Areas (PHMAs) in order to streamline plans in accordance with BLM and FS policy.
  2. The use of mineral withdrawals will be eliminated, in accordance with the limits of FS authority.
  3. Where restrictions on mineral developments are required, specific requirements for habitat disturbing activities will be inserted to clarify plan direction.
  4. Where exceptions to restrictions on minerals development are allowed, the details, requirements, and process of making the exceptions will be modified in order to streamline the plans in accordance with FS and BLM policy.
  5. Updated information will be incorporated to revise mapped Habitat Management Areas (HMAs), and the purpose and use of HMA maps will be clarified.
  6. Livestock management guidelines will be revised to remove restrictions on water developments and to replace specific grass-height requirements with standardized evaluation methods (e.g., the habitat assessment framework) in order to better reflect current research and to align local management with local habitat conditions.
  7. Invasive plant management will be further emphasized by adding a plan objective that stresses treatment of invasive plants in PHMAs, since invasive plants are a primary threat to the sagebrush ecosystem and greater sage-grouse.
  8. In order to promote landscape-scale effectiveness, the adaptive management framework will be changed to align the FS framework with BLM and state-based adaptive management systems.
  9. Plan components will be altered to focus protections for greater sage-grouse into PHMAs in order to better incentivize habitat disturbance to areas outside of PHMAs.
  10. The compensatory mitigation framework, including the use of no net loss or net conservation gain elements, will be changed in order to promote landscape-scale effectiveness by aligning the FS framework with BLM and state-based compensatory mitigation systems.
  11. Text will be edited to correct minor clerical errors, improve clarity, and reduce redundancy within the plan and as related to national policy.

The Environmental Impact Statement was published in the Federal Register on October 5 opening a 90 day comment period. Online comments to the proposed changes can be submitted through January 3, 2019.

October 15, 2018