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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a “Notice of Intent to Amend Land Use Plans Regarding Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Prepare Associated Environmental Impact Statements or Environmental Assessments.” The proposed amendments shift management plans to the states, forgoing the habitat plan that was developed among the Western states and land users, and BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. BLM has also issued an Instruction Memorandum directing staff to no longer prioritize leasing in non-sage-grouse habitat before leasing in habitat areas.
The Forest Service took comments on a proposal to amend “some, all, or none” of their management plan in cooperation with BLM through January 5, 2018.
BLM issued a “Scoping Report” on potential land use plan changes in January 2018, but it did not account for tens of thousands of comments it received in response to the proposals. BLM has said it will file an addendum to the report that accounts for the missing comments. They published draft Environmental Impact Statements for Oregon, Nevada/Northern California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming on May 4, 2018. The comment period for these is open through August 2, 2018, and comments can be submitted at the BLM website.
On April 30, 2018 a coalition of environmental groups sued Interior and BLM for “policies that gut protections for imperiled greater sage grouse and allow oil and gas leases on nearly 2 million acres of the birds’ prime habitat.”
On September 24, 2018 the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho blocked the BLM from implementing certain provisions of its January memo streamlining public involvement in oil and gas lease sales until the court can rule on its legality.The court’s temporary stay of these provisions applies only to lease sales that intersect with sage grouse planning areas or habitat management areas.
Why it Matters
Greater sage-grouse are native to sagebrush and juniper grasslands throughout the Western US, and north into Canada. They are the largest North American grouse and are known for their charismatic mating dance. They are an “umbrella species” – indicating how healthy the habitat is that they share with hundreds of other wildlife species. Habitat fragmentation and degradation have led to plummeting populations across their range. A conservation and habitat management plan was crafted with cooperation from Western states governors, public land users, and environmental groups as a compromise to prevent listing the birds under the Endangered Species Act. If the plan is repealed, states will no longer be required to follow the conservation plan.