The greater sage grouse thrives in the sagebrush landscape of the West. U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service photo. (Public domain.)
The greater sage grouse thrives in the sagebrush landscape of the West.

Steps taken to correct sage-grouse land management plans

U.S. Forest Service plans to prepare environmental impact statement on greater sage-grouse management plans.

Land management plans for national forests in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming were amended in September 2015 to incorporate conservation measures to support the continued existence of the greater sage-grouse. New issues have been identified since 2015, leading the Forest Service to work cooperatively with the Bureau of Land Management to address these issues.

The Forest Service seeks comment on certain parts of the 2015 sage-grouse plans that were identified preliminarily but also seeks input on other related issues. The specific topics already identified for consideration include: Sagebrush Focal Area (SFA) designations, mitigation standards, disturbance and density caps, modification of habitat boundaries to reflect new information, variance of management approaches within Priority Habitat Management Areas and General Habitat Management Areas, causal factors, adaptive management, the land use exemption process and grazing guidelines.

In addition to requesting comment on the topics identified in this notice, the Forest Service is requesting input on whether -- if it undertakes plan amendments -- the planning effort should occur on a regional, state-by-state or forest-by-forest basis. The Forest Service said it particularly looks forward to receiving comments from the governors of each affected state.

On March 31, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada held that the Forest Service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to provide the public with enough information to meaningfully participate in the environmental impact statement (EIS) process in the Nevada & Northeastern California Greater Sage-grouse Land Management Plan amendment in Nevada.

Specifically, the agencies designated SFAs between the draft EIS and final EIS. The court remanded the records of decision to the agencies to prepare a supplemental EIS (Western Exploration LLC vs. U.S. Dept. of Interior, 250 F.Supp.3d 718, 750-751). Similar claims were raised in other pending lawsuits.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) federal lands, said the announcement represents an important step towards correcting the flawed 2015 land use plan amendments for the greater sage-grouse.

“We are glad that the Forest Service has joined the Bureau of Land Management in recognizing that additional consideration and public comment are sorely needed before any further action is taken,” Lane said. “Emerging science has shown that -- as written -- the flawed amendments will inappropriately target proper grazing due to poorly structured habitat objectives requirements found throughout the plans. PLC and NCBA look forward to working with the Department of Interior to correct the 2015 land use plan amendments, which failed to incorporate local knowledge and expertise in the management of sage-grouse habitat."

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