BLM issues proposed revisions to greater sage grouse management plans

May 4, 2018
The US Bureau of Land Management cited nearly 3 years of experience and considerable feedback from states and other stakeholders as it formally proposed revisions to six plans covering management of greater sage grouse habitat in seven Western US states in the May 4 Federal Register.  

The US Bureau of Land Management cited nearly 3 years of experience and considerable feedback from states and other stakeholders as it formally proposed revisions to six plans covering management of greater sage grouse habitat in seven Western US states in the May 4 Federal Register. The notices also triggered 90-day comment periods on new draft environmental statements.

“We are committed to being a good neighbor and respect the state’s ability to manage wildlife, while recognizing the tremendous investments of effort into improving greater sage grouse populations over the last decade,” Deputy US Interior Sec. David Bernhardt said as he announced each proposal.

BLM announced last fall that it would consider amending some, all, or none of the management plans it adopted in 2015 to protect the bird’s habitat in 11 Western states following extensive discussions with state and local governments, oil and gas producers, ranchers, tourism and outdoor recreations, environmental groups, and other stakeholders (OGJ Online, Oct. 5, 2017).

The agency said its goal is to improve management alignment in ways that will increase flexibility, maintain access to public resources, and promote conservation outcomes. The proposals would affect BLM sage grouse oversight in the Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Northern California, Idaho, and Oregon state offices. The agency plans to publish a final plan and EIS by October 2018.

The proposed preferred management alternatives contain actions specific to each state. The one for Wyoming would provide a process for incorporating future iterations of the state’s core area maps; remove the sagebrush focal areas (SFA) designated in the 2015 conservation plans; clarify habitat objective tables in those plans; clarify noise stipulations within priority habitat management areas; develop a process for “untripping” adaptive management triggers; and adopt Wyoming’s mitigation framework.

Tries to balance concerns

“Wyoming is home to more greater sage grouse than any other state in its range. As we work through the planning process, we take our commitment to the conservation of the bird and its sagebrush steppe habitat seriously while facilitating healthy working rangelands for the American public,” BLM Wyoming State Director Mary Jo Rugwell said in Cheyenne.

BLM’s proposed management alignment alternative (MAA) for Colorado would adjust restrictions on oil and gas leasing near sage grouse leks and revise the language for waivers, exceptions, and stipulations in leases to reflect the state’s authority over wildlife management, while clarifying the application of lek buffers.

The draft EIS proposes greater flexibility in adopting the state’s updates to habitat boundaries and would clarify respective roles for the state and BLM’s Colorado operations in determining the impacts of proposed actions and developing opportunities to use state-led programs for off-site mitigation.

“Here in Colorado, it’s important to recognize that we did not throw out the 2015 plans. We built on them,” Acting BLM State Director Greg Shoop said in Denver. “Improved collaboration with the governor and other partners will ensure that concerns particular to Colorado and local communities are integrated into management and conservation efforts on BLM-managed public lands.”

Utah’s BLM state office also received extensive feedback from the state government and other stakeholders in the 2½ years since the plans were adopted, State Director Ed Roberson said in Salt Lake City. The MAA in the draft EIS for Utah focuses management on priority habitat areas and documented corresponding threats to greater sage grouse populations, while proposing to allow development in priority areas if there is no habitat present, he said.

Approaches in other states

The proposed preferred MAA for the draft plans in Nevada and northeastern California would remove the SFAs designated in sage grouse conservation plans adopted in 2015; incorporate Nevada’s 2016 habitat maps and the State’s Habitat Quantification Tool for determining residual impacts; modify the use of lek buffers; clarify the 3% disturbance cap; consider exceptions to seasonal timing restrictions for beneficial habitat projects, allow flexibility in using updated science-based habitat boundaries; and refers to program-level environmental analysis of fuel breaks and rangeland restoration projects.

The Nevada draft EIS also addresses the March 2017 US District Court ruling which held that BLM violated the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, as amended, by failing to prepare a supplemental EIS for the designation of SFAs in Nevada in the Greater Sage Grouse Management Plan amendment for Nevada and Northeastern California, BLM said.

Many issues with Oregon’s state government have been or will be addressed separately from BLM’s greater sage grouse management plan amendment process there, Jamie E. Connell, said in Portland. However, the draft EIS for BLM-managed sagebrush habitat in Oregon addresses the issue of livestock grazing in BLM Research Natural Areas (RNA), she indicated. The proposed preferred MAA evaluates the local economic impact of withdrawing RNAs from availability for grazing and examines how livestock grazing affects the elements and values for which key RNAs were designated, Connell said.

States’ schedules for public hearings and comment submissions varied. Colorado’s BLM state office in Denver scheduled a public open house in Craig on Nov. 8 and announced that comments on its draft will be accepted until Nov. 27.

The Utah BLM office in Salt Lake City, which began to accept public comments on May 4, said it also plans to hold public meetings to gather comments and will announce their schedule and locations. Comments will be accepted through Aug. 2 or 15 days after the final public meeting, whichever is later.

BLM’s Nevada state office in Reno, which also is responsible for Northern California, said comments would be accepted for 90 days following its draft plan’s publication in the Federal Register.

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].