PORTLAND, Ore. - As part of a joint effort with the U.S. Forest Service to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse and its habitat across 10 Western states, the Bureau of Land Management on Friday issued a draft environmental impact statement for a 90-day public comment period.
The draft Oregon Sub-Regional Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan (RMP) Amendment/EIS would amend the BLM land management plans covering the Andrews, Baker, Lakeview, Steens, Three Rivers, Brothers La Pine (east), Southeastern Oregon, and Upper Deschutes RMPs in Oregon.
It considers six possible management alternatives for maintaining and increasing habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse on BLM-administered lands in Oregon.
About10 million acres of Oregon's Greater Sage-Grouse habitat is on BLM-administered lands.
The decisions in this RMP Amendment apply only to BLM-administered lands in Oregon. They do not apply to private land.
"We are considering a range of alternatives designed to conserve and protect Greater Sage-Grouse habitat," said Oregon Sub-Regional Greater Sage-Grouse Project Manager Joan Suther. "We have been working closely with our cooperating agencies to develop a plan. Public review and comment on the draft EIS is the next important step in the process."
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Greater Sage-Grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but that listing the species was precluded by the need to address other species first.
One reason for the FWS determination was the need for "improved regulatory mechanisms" to ensure species conservation. The principal regulatory mechanisms for the BLM and the Forest Service are resource decisions in land management plans.
The BLM and the Forest Service are stewards of more than half of all Greater Sage-Grouse habitat in the United States.
In 2011, the BLM and the Forest Service joined forces to develop, analyze and incorporate coordinated, long-term conservation measures and actions for the Greater Sage-Grouse in their land management plans.
These land-use planning measures must be completed by the end of 2014 to give FWS time to evaluate them before the agency must make a court-ordered, final listing decision in 2015.
For additional information about Greater Sage-Grouse conservation, visit http://www.blm.gov/sagegrouse.
The draft EIS released Friday is one of more than a dozen coordinated environmental documents developed to provide a consistent approach to sustaining the species and its habitat across the West. The drafts are being released for public comment as they are completed.
News release from Oregon Natural Desert Association:
BLM releases draft plan for management of Greater sage-grouse
BEND, OR —The Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) is beginning an in-depth review of a plan released today for Greater sage-grouse by the Bureau of Land Management. This plan will be critical to both the future of eastern Oregon and the Greater sage-grouse, and ONDA is urging anyone with an interest in eastern Oregon to learn more and participate in the process.
ONDA's preliminary impression of the plan is that while BLM has proposed limiting certain types of disturbance to sage-grouse habitat, the agency has also chosen not to include other needed protections, such as designating large protected areas, in its preferred alternative.
The draft environmental impact statement and resource management plan, a lengthy, complex document, details six management alternatives for the sage-grouse, which range across roughly 10 million acres of public land in Oregon. When finalized, the plan will influence economic activity and conservation efforts in eastern Oregon and will factor into whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides to list the bird as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act by a deadline in 2015.
ONDA will review the draft with a focus on measures that would provide the strongest protection for Greater sage-grouse. One key element is designation of large areas to protect wildlife habitat, like Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, which would offer significant protection for sage-grouse. Two alternatives include ACECs; the preferred one does not. Capping human disturbance within priority sage-grouse habitat also has the potential to offer good protection depending how it's implemented. The preferred alternative contains a 3 percent cap, although the BLM has yet to make clear how it would be put into effect.
Other chief elements ONDA will analyze in the alternatives include approaches on habitat restoration, grazing management, mining proposals, and energy development and transmission proposals.
Citizens have the opportunity to contribute their thoughts on the draft for the next 90 days, both in public meetings scheduled for January and in written form.
"The BLM's plan for sage-grouse in eastern Oregon will be one of the most important factors in whether sage-grouse and their habitat can exist and thrive for future generations of Oregonians," said ONDA Conservation Director Dan Morse. "ONDA is keenly focused on the need for strong protections for sage-grouse and will be working with our partners and other stakeholders to urge BLM to adopt the strongest possible conservation measures. We encourage members of the public with an interest in eastern Oregon to review the BLM plans and participate in the process by submitting your comments."
ONDA is the only conservation organization dedicated exclusively to Oregon's high desert. ONDA staff and volunteers have worked diligently over the past two decades in eastern Oregon to improve wildlife habitat, particularly for the benefit of the Greater sage-grouse. We pulled more than 250 miles of obsolete barbed wire fence from Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge alone, making it one of the largest fence-free expanses in the West. We also hope to pull the last remaining unnecessary fence from Steens Mountain in the coming year. Fences can snare and kill sage-grouse, and this season ONDA volunteers will also begin work to make important fences more wildlife-friendly by raising the bottom wire and attaching reflectors near sage-grouse mating areas.
For more information on our efforts, visit ONDA.org.