BLM proposes to remove sage grouse protection areas

A sage grouse is seen near Fallon on July 25, 2005.

A sage grouse is seen near Fallon on July 25, 2005.

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed to remove sagebrush focal areas designed to protect the sage grouse in a draft environmental impact analysis it published, the BLM announced on Wednesday.

The BLM developed the proposed changes in collaboration with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, state wildlife managers and other stakeholders.

The proposed preferred Management Alignment alternative for the draft plans in Nevada and northeastern California would remove the sagebrush focal areas 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 percent disturbance cap; consider exceptions to seasonal timing restrictions for beneficial habitat projects, allow flexibility in using updated science-based habitat boundaries; and references program-level environmental analysis of fuel breaks and rangeland restoration projects.

This draft EIS also addresses the March 2017 U.S. District Court ruling that held the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended, by failing to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the designation of Sagebrush Focal Areas in the Nevada and Northeastern California Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan Amendment in Nevada.

The proposed changes build on the 2015 plans, using feedback from states and other partners that found during implementation the plans didn’t respond to local needs, the BLM stated.

“We are committed to being a good neighbor and respect the states’ ability to manage wildlife, while recognizing the tremendous investments of effort into improving Greater Sage-Grouse populations over the last decade,” said Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. “We look forward to receiving comments on the draft.”

“I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval said. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

“The Department of the Interior’s proposed changes represent an important step toward returning power back to our local communities, and lifting the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed regulations that have put major restrictions on millions of acres of land in Nevada and stifled economic opportunities,” said U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada). “As a long-time proponent of encouraging the federal government to engage with state and local governments on conservation and land use plans, I’m pleased that the administration is listening to these key stakeholders.”

“I would like to thank the secretary for doing a much-needed revisit of the previous administration’s policies regarding sage hen habitat,” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nevada). “I look forward to hearing back from our stakeholders in Nevada regarding the proposed changes and plan to familiarize myself with this draft and provide further input.”

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3353, Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Coordination with Western States, which prompted the departmental review of the 2015 plans. He also tasked the BLM with implementing a strategy for Greater Sage-Grouse conservation that’s done in partnership with local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive, the BLM stated.

As a result nearly every governor who actively participated in the Sage-Grouse Task Force asked for changes to their plans. Now the BLM is publishing six draft plans covering seven states. The Notices of Availability will appear in Friday’s Federal Register.


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