BLM releases final changes to sage-grouse plans

By Laura Bies

The Bureau of Land Management has released final changes to its sage-grouse conservation plans.
©Mark Thonhoff/BLM

The Bureau of Land Management has finalized changes to its management plans for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) conservation on public land in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, completing a process underway since 2017. 

In 2015, the Obama administration amended land use plans for BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands across eleven Western states. The 98 plans covered 70 million acres of habitat. Thanks to those changes, and cooperation between state and federal agencies and other partners, the U.S. 

Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 2015 to not list sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

The Trump administration announced in 2017 that it would amend the plans, with dual goals of improving sage-grouse conservation and increasing collaboration between state and federal conservation plans and programs. 

The changes, finalized March 15, would reduce the amount of habitat protected from development and increase flexibility for the BLM to permit oil and gas drilling and other activities on sage-grouse habitat on public lands. 

The 2015 plans identified “sagebrush focal areas,” or areas of habitat critical to sage-grouse survival, which would be permanently withdrawn from mineral extraction. While 10 million acres were designated as focal areas in the original plans, the recent changes eliminate these areas, reducing protections for sage-grouse habitats.  

The changed plans would retain the no-surface occupancy policy from the original plans, which protects priority habitat from infrastructure development, but they increase the BLM’s ability to waive these restrictions. 

Other changes include reducing buffers around leks in general habitat management areas in Idaho, where there’s 8.8 million acres of sage-grouse habitat on BLM land, and removing the “closed to leasing” designation, which applied to oil and gas leasing within a mile of an active lek in Colorado. Such areas will now be open to leasing but still subject to stipulations. In Wyoming, no-surface-occupancy requirements for priority habitat management areas would be changed to now allow exceptions on a case-by-case basis. The BLM manages almost 18 million acres of sage-grouse habitat in Wyoming.

The U.S. Forest Service is also in the process of updating its management plan for sage-grouse. It accepted comments on the proposed changes in December and January. Final plans are expected in the next few months. 

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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