Interior releases updated sage-grouse plans

By Laura Bies

The Bureau of Land Management has released supplemental information on sage-grouse conservation plans in seven western states. ©BLM Oregon

The Bureau of Land Management addressed a federal judge’s concerns regarding recent revisions to greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) conservation plans by publishing six draft supplemental environmental impact statements last week. The plans cover millions of acres of sage-grouse habitat in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the greater sage-grouse warranted protections under the Endangered Species Act, but over the next several years, federal agencies, states and nonprofits worked together to developed protections to conserve the species without listing it under the ESA. As a result, Interior announced in 2015 that the sage-grouse would not require listing. That year, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service also finalized their sage-grouse conservation plans.

Last year, a federal district court judge blocked implementation of the BLM’s revised sage-grouse plans, which were developed over a two-year period starting in 2017. The court placed an injunction on the revised plans due to the BLM’s failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act in preparing the revisions.

“Certainly, the BLM is entitled to align its actions with the state plans, but when the BLM substantially reduces protections for sage grouse contrary to the best science and the concerns of other agencies, there must be some analysis and justification — a hard look — in the NEPA documents,” the court order read. The court reinstated the 2015 sage-grouse conservation plans and placed the revisions under an injunction until it issues a ruling on the merits of the case.

The new documents do not contain new analyses but rather provide additional background information on the process of the plan revisions and how the agency believes it complied with NEPA during that process. If the supplemental EISs do not convince the court to remove the injunction, the administration has indicated that it plans to appeal the district court ruling.

When the revision process began in 2017, The Wildlife Society joined with partner organizations in writing to the Department of the Interior, providing recommendations for the plan revisions and expressing reservations about moving away from the collaboration and landscape-level planning that the 2015 sage-grouse conservation plans represent.

The BLM will accept public comments on the supplemental draft EISs until April 6.

Read TWS’ statement on the 2015 decision not to list sage-grouse

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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