USFS follows BLM to amend greater sage-grouse plans

The U.S. Forest Service has followed the example set by the Bureau of Land Management by releasing a supplemental notice of intent to draft environmental impact statements for potential amendments to the Forest Service Greater Sage-Grouse and Resource Management Plans. National forests in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado would be affected.

A collection of complementary management plans put in place by federal agencies, states and private landowners influenced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2015 decision not to list the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS determined that the combined efforts would be enough to help recover and protect the species and its sagebrush habitat without a federal listing.

In June 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a secretarial order instructing agencies in the Department of the Interior to revisit the plans, particularly to assess the local economic impacts and consider resource and energy development in sage-grouse habitat.  Zinke’s order emphasized the need for DOI agencies to coordinate with the USFS and state partners during the process.

The Wildlife Society and other organizations expressed concern that any major changes to the plans could threaten the carefully crafted agreements that underpinned FWS’s decision not to federally list the species in 2015. BLM released six draft environmental impact statements for amending the plans in May 2018.

Alongside this process, sage-grouse management is proving controversial in other ways. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, submitted a rider in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5515) that would prevent the USFWS from listing the greater sage-grouse for 10 years. He added similar amendments during the two previous years, but they were eventually stripped during conference committee. The 2019 bill has passed both the House and the Senate and is currently in conference to work out the differences. The Senate version did not include the sage-grouse rider.

In April 2018, the National Wildlife Federation, Montana Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and The Wilderness Society filed a lawsuit against BLM and Zinke due to proposed oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitat. The suit claims the agency violated the Federal Land Management Policy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by disregarding the 2015 agreements.

Public comments on the Forest Service proposal close on July 20.

Header Image: Male greater sage-grouse compete to impress females in a communal breeding grounds called a lek. ©BLM