Sage Grouse Protections and Livestock

BLM Proposes New Public Land Limits to Protect Greater Sage Grouse in 10 States

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Bureau of Land Management announced a new proposal on Thursday to protect the greater sage grouse. The proposal, which details several protection options, could affect grazing in western states as well as oil drilling and renewable energy projects. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Ranchers in 10 Western states could see grazing lands affected by a new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan to protect the greater sage grouse.

The plan, if it goes into effect, also would likely affect the development of fossil fuels and renewable energy projects on public lands in Western states.

The BLM announced a new draft plan on March 14 to protect the greater sage grouse, a bird that nests on the ground and is known for strutting displays by males during mating season. BLM officials noted there once were millions of greater sage grouse but now their numbers are fewer than 800,000, "largely due to habitat loss exacerbated by climate change, such as drought, increasing wildfires, and invasive species."

BLM stated that efforts are needed to restore sagebrush habitat across BLM-managed lands in Western states. The states affected include California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

"The majesty of the West and its way of life are at stake. Sagebrush lands are places where people work and play, and they are the headwaters for the West's major rivers," said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. "Joint efforts to conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat led to the largest collaborative conservation effort in our history and we are building on that work, together with our partners, to ensure the health of these lands and local economies into the future."

The scale of the greater sage grouse proposal is just one issue that caught the attention of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council. The joint groups immediately called on a longer comment period to allow for more examination of the details.

"In the 600 pages released today, there are proposals that will impact millions of acres across 10 different states. A 90-day comment window is laughable. The BLM needs to extend the comment period to allow for full, informed public engagement," said Sigrid Johannes, director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA government affairs.

"We're still analyzing the hundreds of pages of text, but what we'll be looking for is a strong acknowledgment of the reality that science has proven time and time again, most recently in a 10-year study conducted by the University of Idaho, responsible livestock grazing is fully compatible with sage grouse populations. Livestock grazing strengthens sage grouse habitat. Restrictions, especially those based on outdated science, will not help conserve this species."

The BLM plan provides multiple management alternatives. Each one would impact livestock grazing differently.

Still, BLM also cited the need to protect multiple uses on BLM sagebrush lands, "including clean energy projects," to help address climate change, "a main driver of greater sage grouse habitat loss."

The New York Times, citing Department of Interior officials, stated it would take "an additional 2.5 million acres under the most restrictive sage grouse protections," to achieve better habitat for the bird.

BLM's preferred alternative for protecting the sage grouse would place more restrictions on drilling and mining.

The executive summary of the BLM proposal cites that livestock grazing would be among the practices that could require further analysis under resource management plans or an environmental impact study. Certain alternatives listed under the BLM proposal would be more restrictive to livestock grazing than others, the BLM proposal states. Some proposals also require increased fencing to separate federal and non-federal lands. Other proposals could restrict the type of livestock grazing in an area and the seasonality of use.

BLM also noted some of the risks of proposals that would restrict grazing. Limits on grazing "could allow for the buildup of fine fuels, which may increase the risk of a large-scale wildfire that would damage or destroy large areas" of greater sage grouse habitat.

And yet, the proposed plan also suggests removing livestock grazing, as well as wild horses and burros, "could have positive benefits for grazing wildlife due to the removal of uses that compete for similar resources."

The appropriations bill last week passed by Congress and signed into law included a provision that blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse as an endangered species, at least through the end of the 2024 fiscal year.

BLM will hold 13 public meetings on its proposal, and a comment period opened on March 15 and will go until June 13.

More details can be found at https://www.blm.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com.

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Chris Clayton