BLM issues modified greater sage grouse habitat management plans

The US Bureau of Land Management issued records of decision amending greater sage grouse habitat management plans covering nearly 60 million acres of sagebrush steppe in seven Western states, several of which have oil and gas activity. “We’re pleased that the final plans are out now and moving forward into implementation,” Western Energy Alliance Pres. Kathleen Sgamma said in Denver following BLM’s Mar. 15 announcement.

Mar 15th, 2019

The US Bureau of Land Management issued records of decision (ROD) amending greater sage grouse habitat management plans covering nearly 60 million acres of sagebrush steppe in seven Western states, several of which have oil and gas activity.

“We’re pleased that the final plans are out now and moving forward into implementation,” Western Energy Alliance Pres. Kathleen Sgamma said in Denver following BLM’s Mar. 15 announcement.

“Producers have significantly shrunk the impact on the land by up to 70% through horizontal and direction drilling and will continue to implement additional measures to protect sage grouse,” Sgamma said. “Companies in sage grouse habitat have been and will continue conducting operations in a manner that minimizes or completely avoids impacts to sage grouse.”

Governors from six states in the area—three Republicans and three Democrats—also welcomed the new plans that cover parts of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and northeastern California. “In particular Nevada appreciates BLM’s commitment to compensatory mitigation as an integral part of the habitat management plan in our state,” Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) said.

The goal was to better align BLM plans for managing habitat with state plans for conserving the species, acting US Interior Sec. David Bernhardt said in Washington. “The plans adopted today show that listening to and working with our neighbors at the state and local levels of government is the key to long-term conservation and to ensuring the viability of local communities across the West,” he maintained.

What the RODs do

The decisions affect resource management plans (RMP) for land that BLM oversees in the seven states where it manages habitat while states manage wildlife species, BLM said. The amended plans retain the priority habitat management areas (PHMA) for more than 29 million surface acres of BLM-administered sagebrush-steppe, where the management priority is to exclude or avoid disturbance to the foul and its habitat, and to minimize effects where a PHMA cannot be avoided, it said.

Another 23 million surface acres retain identification as general habitat management areas (GHMA), where avoidance and minimization are applied flexibly, in line with local conditions and a state’s science-based objectives for species management, BLM said.

It developed the RMPs after then-Interior Sec. Sally Jewell announced in 2015 that the US Fish & Wildlife Service would not list the bird as endangered following an unprecedented habit conservation collaboration involving multiple federal agencies; state, county, and local governments; the oil and gas industry and other businesses; private landowners; environmental and recreation groups; and other stakeholders (OGJ Online, Sept. 22, 2015).

Utah’s government sued DOI and the US Department of Agriculture a few months later for adopting a new resource management plan for the bird that the state said overthrew its own strategy (OGJ Online, Feb. 5, 2016). Seven of 11 governors in affected states ultimately asked for changes, and Ryan Zinke, who succeeded Jewell as secretary during the Trump administration, announced the RMPs would be reviewed and possibly amended (OGJ Online, June 8, 2017).

Additional results

In its latest announcement. BLM said that including 3.4 million acres of PHMA and 2.4 million acres of GHMA in Montana and the Dakotas—whose BLM sage-grouse plans are not being amended—a total of 32.4 million surface acres will be managed as priority habitat across the sage grouse’s range, while another 25.6 million surface acres are designated general habitat. The plans for BLM lands in Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado include additional habitat categories, acreages, and management objectives specific to their respective states, it noted.

The agency said benchmarks, or “trigger” points, for local sage grouse populations will remain in place for BLM-managed habitat to indicate when adaptive management measures are needed to address population declines. The amended plans also outline procedures once it is determined that a decline has been stopped and reversed, it said.

The latest RODs also formalize coordination between BLM and respective states in applying mitigation measures to approved actions. The state-specific arrangements recognize that the federal agency does not have the authority to require compensatory mitigation for otherwise allowable activities on public lands while supporting each state’s plan and authorities for mitigation, BLM said.

The decisions reflect BLM’s determination that greater flexibility was needed to manage habitat and respond to the needs of each state’s landscapes and communities, it said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in Government
Economics & Markets
MARKET: Oil prices rise on tanker attacks