BLM may consider amending greater sage grouse conservation plans

The US Bureau of Land Management intends to consider amending some, all, or none of its 2015 land use conservation plans to protect the greater sage grouse, the US Department of the Interior agency reported in an Oct. 5 notice of intent. Comments will be accepted for 45 days following the notice’s publication in the Federal Register, which BLM anticipates soon.

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This article was updated on Oct. 6.

The US Bureau of Land Management intends to consider amending some, all, or none of its 2015 land use conservation plans to protect the greater sage grouse, the US Department of the Interior agency reported in an Oct. 5 notice of intent. Comments will be accepted for 45 days following the notice’s publication in the Federal Register, which BLM anticipates soon.

The move came in response to a Mar. 31 federal district court finding in Nevada that BLM violated the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for designating focal areas for the bird in its Nevada and Northern California Resource Management Plan.

“In order to comply with the court’s order and to address issues raised by various interested parties, the BLM intends to consider the possibility of amending some, all, or none of the BLM land use plans that were amended or revised in 2014 and 2015 regarding greater sage grouse conservation in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Montana,” the notice said.

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The notice also responded to an Aug. 4 report DOI officials prepared in response to an order Sec. Ryan Zinke issued on June 7 in response to concerns expressed to him regarding the 2015 plans. It recommended continued collaboration with the governments of the 10 states in which the greater sage grouse is found, both through the Greater Sage Grouse Task Force and between each governor’s office and the respective BLM state director and US Forest Service regional forester.

“This report also recommends engagement on the issues and options identified in this report with congressional delegations, counties, local governments, and tribes, as well as with ranchers, industry, conservation groups, and other stakeholders,” it said. “This additional engagement would be used to refine the options and develop a plan for prioritized implementation of the options in this report.”

In Denver, Western Energy Alliance Pres. Kathleen Sgamma welcomed the news. “The plans discouraged on-the-ground, local conservation efforts and ignored state plans, except for Wyoming’s, in favor of a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach,” Sgamma said. “The attitude of this Interior Department, which is much more interested in real collaboration with states and counties, is welcome after the prior administration’s process that ignored real threats to sage grouse and exaggerated impacts from human activities.”

Oil and gas measures in the plans were unnecessarily draconian, and disregarded the hundreds of measures that companies have implemented to protect sage grouse, Sgamma said. “The plans inflated the impacts from oil and gas activities by completely ignoring the technological innovation and best practices implemented over the last decade that have resulted in 70% less habitat fragmentation,” she said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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