On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a new report from its Sage-Grouse Review Team (DOI Team) regarding possible plan and policy modifications to complement state efforts to improve greater sage-grouse conservation and economic development on public lands.
The report is the final product required by Secretarial Order 3353, “Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation & Cooperation with Western States,” issued on June 7, 2017. In addition to officials from DOI, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service, representatives from 11 states with sage-grouse habitat were involved in the creation of the document.
In 2010, FWS found that the greater sage-grouse warranted listing under the Endangered Species Act. In 2012, FWS, in collaboration with the states, led an effort to identify conservation objectives for the bird and its habitat.
In 2015, FWS determined that the voluntary conservation efforts of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the land management plans of BLM were sufficient to avoid listing the sage-grouse as an endangered species. Eleven western states with the most sage-grouse habitat collaborated with federal officials to preserve the bird and its habitat, both of which are vital to maintaining western economies and ecosystems. Sagebrush ecosystems support more than 350 species and are critical to the outdoor recreation industry’s $1 billion in economic output.
Secretarial Order 3353 aims to improve sage-grouse conservation and to strengthen communication and collaboration between states and the federal government. Together, the federal government and the states are working to conserve and protect sage-grouse and their habitat while also ensuring that conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities.
In signing the order, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke established an internal review team that, among other things, evaluated both federal sage-grouse plans and state plans and programs to ensure that they are complementary and explored possible plan modifications with local economic growth and job creation in mind.
The final report released Aug. 7 from the DOI Team recommends continued collaboration with the states, initiation of stakeholder engagement, implementation of short-term recommendations and investigation of potential plan amendments.
Zinke said he has directed DOI deputy secretary David Bernhardt to begin implementation of the recommendations and to direct BLM, in coordination with FWS, the U.S. Geological Survey and other DOI offices, to immediately follow through on the short- and long-term recommendations.
The actions include issuing or modifying policy and providing training on the use of assessment and monitoring data and tools and to increase the flexibility in grazing management. It also recommended identifying options for flexibility when applying adaptive management decisions.
Public Lands Council president Dave Eliason said he was encouraged by several key priorities, including the compatibility of proper grazing management and conservation.
“The report acknowledges the need for a more collaborative approach between grazing permittees and federal leadership as well as a re-examination of the Habitat Objectives Table and its application – both key elements to successful conservation efforts for the greater sage-grouse,” Eliason said.
The report reinforces the need to pursue outcome-based grazing demonstration projects and targeted grazing pilot projects -- two critical tools for responsive management of ecosystems and fuel loads, Eliason added. “The Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. stand ready to collaborate with the Department of the Interior moving forward,” he noted.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) also welcomed the report. “As I review this new report, we need to enable our state to have the flexibility it needs to support farmers, ranchers, energy workers and businesses so they can do their jobs and boost our state’s economy while also effectively making sure the sage-grouse is safeguarded in our state and region,” Heitkamp said. “Farmers and ranchers are the first conservationists on this land. We can support sage-grouse habitat while also supporting jobs and the economy, and North Dakotans know best how to make those two goals work together. Conservation and job creation can go hand in hand by making sure North Dakota works in partnership with the federal government.”