Sage Grouse Conservation Plan Amendments Supported by Affected States's Governors

Sage Grouse Conservation Plan Amendments Supported by Affected States's Governors

Russell Nemetz
Russell Nemetz
Furthering the Administration's goals of restoring trust with local communities and responsibly developing America's natural resources while easing regulatory burdens, the Bureau of Land Management has issued Records of Decision (RODs) amending land use plans for Greater Sage-Grouse habitat management on public lands, providing special protective measures for nearly 60 million acres of sagebrush steppe.

The decisions received bipartisan support from the governors who sought revisions to the plans that guide conservation of sagebrush steppe habitat on BLM-administered public lands in their respective states. The goal was to better align BLM plans for managing habitat with state plans for conserving the species.

"Months of close coordination and cooperation with state governments in Wyoming, Nevada, California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Colorado has gone into the development of today's decision," said Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. "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." [See article: Governors welcome plan revisions]

Colorado Governor Jared Polis welcomed the amended plan: "We are pleased that the Bureau of Land Management addressed our comments brought forward during the Governor's Consistency Review. Our focus now turns to implementation and creating successful outcomes on the ground. We look forward to working with the BLM and our local communities to move important conservation measures forward to protect Greater Sage-Grouse in Colorado."

"The State of Nevada thanks the Bureau of Land Management for incorporating our concerns and respecting the Greater Sage-Grouse habitat plan developed cooperatively by Nevada state agencies and local stakeholders," said Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. "In particular, Nevada appreciates the BLM's commitment to compensatory mitigation as an integral part of the success of Nevada's habitat management plan. We look forward to working closely the BLM Nevada Office and the Department of Interior leadership to ensure the revised habitat plans are fully successful."

"This balanced decision will improve conditions for sage-grouse and hundreds of other species while maintaining certainty and predictability for ranchers, developers, and the public," Idaho Governor Brad Little said. "Idaho's work with the Department of the Interior and Acting Secretary Bernhardt is a model for shared conservation stewardship that enhances rangelands across the state."

"This new BLM plan improves upon the 2015 federal sage-grouse plans by incorporating the best available science and aligning with the State's 2019 Conservation Plan for Greater Sage-Grouse," said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. "I support BLM's ongoing efforts to work with the State, and other stakeholders, to conserve, enhance, and restore sage-grouse habitats throughout Utah. The State of Utah remains committed to working with BLM, and the Department of Interior to implement this revised BLM plan to manage sage-grouse habitats in Utah."

"I appreciate all of the diligence that went into these plan amendments and how responsive the Department of Interior has been to Wyoming's approach. I believe the updates are surgical and recognize that the Greater sage-grouse is a state-managed species," Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said. "A diversity of perspectives have gone into building Wyoming's conservation strategy that include ranchers, conservation groups, oil and gas, mining companies and hunters. Thanks to this well-established, balanced approach and the BLM's plan amendments, Wyoming will continue to conserve sage-grouse and provide predictability to the state's economy."

"Collaboration is hard work, and I appreciate the efforts by our stakeholders, state agencies and the Department of Interior to craft an agreement to protect the sage grouse," said Oregon Governor Kate Brown. "Balancing sage grouse habitat protection and economic development requires mitigation of negative impacts. This agreement is a critical step that marks a shift away from planning toward active conservation and landscape management to protect this iconic species. Oregon's bounty is beautiful and worth continuing to protect and fight for."

"Since the very beginning of this effort, all partners have maintained the need to conserve the sage grouse and avoid the need to list the species as threatened or endangered," said Brian Steed, BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs. "We also share a commitment to conservation that does not put the West's communities at risk and which balances between regulation and access. We believe that the better outcomes for the species under these plans will demonstrate the value of coordinating federal and state authority."

"At Interior, between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management we have shown that outstanding conservation can be achieved when results and cooperation with our State partners are the priority," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson. "We have forged new relationships with our neighbors, and working together produced the catalyst for success of sage grouse, big game, and other wildlife for many generations to come."

The decisions affect resource management plans for BLM-administered public lands in seven Western states, where the BLM manages habitat and states manage wildlife species. Together, the amended BLM plans retain the priority habitat designation (PHMA) for more than 29 million surface acres of BLM-administered sagebrush-steppe, where the management priority is to exclude or avoid disturbance to sage-grouse and their habitat, and to minimize effects where PHMA cannot be avoided. Another 23 million surface acres retain identification as general habitat (GHMA), where avoidance and minimization are applied flexibly, in line with local conditions and a state's science-based objectives for species management.

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 Greater 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.

Benchmarks, or "trigger" points, for local sage-grouse populations 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.

The plans build on those put into place in 2015. In 2017, the BLM began scoping for the new plans asking whether "some, none or all" of the 2015 sage-grouse plans should be amended. Seven of 11 affected governors asked for changes, and the BLM and the Department of the Interior worked with each to design range-specific modifications.

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

The planning effort that concludes with today's decisions began in 2017 when governors of most of the affected sage-grouse states asked the BLM to revisit existing plans for managing sage-grouse habitat and adapt them to better meet the needs of individual states. In response, the BLM proposed changes developed in collaboration with governors and state wildlife agency professionals in the seven affected states, as well as other concerned organizations and individuals, largely through the Western Governors Association's Sage-Grouse Task Force.

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

The decisions and supporting documents are available online

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