Feds Begin Process to Amend Sage-Grouse Management Plan

Changes could impact hunting; Western habitat released from development protections

Monday, Oct. 16, 2017

By Mark Carter

The U.S. Department of the Interior intends to amend its sage-grouse management plan, which could impact hunting of the West's iconic bird.

The move comes on the heels of DOI's cancellation of plans initiated by the Obama administration to set aside roughly 10 million acres of prime sage-grouse habitat in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, and restrict energy development there.

SEE ALSO: States to Have More Say on Sage Grouse Conservation

The balance between energy development and conservation has provided a steady source of debate among elected officials and sportsmen in the West, some who fear federal overreach, others who fear erosion of public access to public lands, and in this case, potential destruction of habitat.

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order allowing states more power to pursue economic development on sagebrush habitat while remaining focused on sage-grouse conservation and keeping the sage grouse, a favorite of hunters, off the endangered species list.

In reversing the Obama plan, the Bureau of Land Management determined "the proposal to withdraw 10 million acres was unreasonable in light of the data that showed that mining affected less than .1 percent of sage-grouse-occupied range," according to the Congressional Western Caucus.

The full notice of cancellation is available here.

Moving forward, the lands will be managed in accordance with existing plans, programs, policies and regulations in the affected states.

“The proposal to withdraw 10 million acres to prevent 10,000 from potential mineral development was a complete overreach,” said acting BLM Director Mike Nedd. “Secretary Zinke has said from the beginning that by working closely with the states, who are on the front lines and a valued partner in protecting the health of these lands, we can be successful in conserving greater sage grouse habitat without stifling economic development and job growth. And that’s what we intend to do — protect important habitat while also being a good neighbor to states and local communities.” 

MORE: Study Finds Energy Development Not Suitable on Sage Grouse Habitat

Meanwhile, many outdoors groups are wary of the Trump administration approach. This past summer, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers commissioned a study that found almost 80 percent of land with medium to high potential for energy development fell outside of sage-grouse habitat.

The report is available here.

“The Interior Department’s decision to alter its existing successful approach to sage-grouse habitat management subverts the will of a majority of Americans and the needs of the grouse in favor of the interests of the energy industry," said BHA Conservation Director John Gale. "Our Western landscapes will be poorer as a result."

ALSO: Western Officials to Feds: Sage Grouse Focus Should Remain on Habitat

The BLM notice to amend, issued October 6, solicits public comments for 45 days and schedules public meetings in sage-grouse states. All public input will be considered as BLM looks at possible changes to existing land-use plans.