Sage grouse plan moving forward


BLM released an environmental impact statement for public review

As efforts continue to complete a sage grouse resource management plan, the Bureau of Land Management recently issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The draft is latest in more than a dozen documents developed to provide a consistent approach to sustaining the species and its habitat, some of which is located in Crook County.

"We are considering a range of alternatives designed to conserve and protect greater sage grouse habitat," said Joan Suther, Oregon sub-regional greater sage grouse protection manager. "We have been working closely with our cooperating agencies to develop a plan.”

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sage grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act. The following year, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service partnered to create long-term conservation measures and actions for the species.

The EIS is now under a review period that concludes in late February, and BLM staff is encouraging people weigh in.

“Public review and comment on the draft EIS is the next important step in the process,” Suther said.

The document presents six potential conservation alternatives with varying degrees of action. The first is a no-action option that would retain current methods.

The second would consider actions outlined in the multi-agency National Technical Team, and include protections such as right-of-way exclusion areas and a fluid mineral leasing closure.

The next alternative would consider recommendations submitted by conservation groups, which includes the creation of an Area of Critical Environmental Concern covering about 4.5 million acres of sage grouse habitat. No cattle grazing would be permitted in that area.

The fourth alternative, the BLM’s preferred option, would incorporate adjustments to the NTT, which were developed by cooperating agencies.

The fifth option emphasizes protecting core habitat areas with no development permissible for major surface disturbing activities.

The final alternative would create an Area of Critical Environmental Concern that would cover 4 million acres of sage grouse habitat and include reduced grazing in the planning area.

Given the potential impact on cattle grazing, the EIS has the full attention of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA). The group is encouraging its members to provide comment on the document or risk severe grazing restrictions.

“We think that is an unfortunate direction for the plan to go,” said John O’Keeffe, OCA President Elect. “If you look at these research natural areas, they picked areas that are good examples of native range land and permitees have been on them for three or four generations.”

O’Keeffe went on to point out that grazing was less concerning to the Fish and Wildlife Service than other threats when they first determined that sage grouse needed protection.

“When they came out with their listing review, the real threats out here were juniper encroachment, wildfire, and cheat grass invasion,” he said. “Grazing, if we do it right, isn’t a threat.”

The BLM has until the end of this year to complete their land-use planning measures. Assuming the agency completes them by that deadline, the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate them before making a court-ordered, final listing decision in 2015.