BLM Wyoming RAC considers sage grouse at initial meetingWritten by Christy Martinez
The first meeting of the recently appointed BLM Wyoming Resource Advisory Council (RAC) was held in Cheyenne on June 30 and July 1.
Members of the RAC elected Paul Ulrich as chairman and Freddie Botur as vice-chairman, and they also made plans for the topics they will address in the future.
“There’s a fairly broad range of interests on the RAC, from outdoor recreation to wild horses to energy to elected officials and grazing,” says RAC member Doug Thompson, who represents elected officials as a Fremont County Commissioner. “We were told that our job is to give advice to the Designated Federal Officer, or DFO, who, in our case, is BLM Wyoming Director Don Simpson.”
The RAC will meet two to four times a year, and it can have subcommittees and take on projects, but it won’t fund any projects – two things it cannot do are provide advice on personnel issues, or spend money.
Marilyn Mackey, who ranches north of Gillette, is on the committee as a federal grazing representative.
“Based on what I’ve seen with agriculture, and the things happening at the federal level and their impacts, I’ve always been interested and concerned about where we’re going,” says Mackey, who became involved with federal lands issues as a Campbell County commissioner. “Most recently, the Campbell County commissioners appointed me as cooperating agency representative for the Buffalo Field Office Resource Management Plans (RMP), and as I’ve sat through that process it’s highlighted the importance of being involved in every aspect to keep grazing and agriculture viable.”
The first day of the RAC’s meeting was spent getting to know the other members of the Council, and the second day the group look at issues of interest to BLM throughout the state, says Thompson.
“There was a fairly wide range of issues, from sage grouse to public access roads to wild horse fertility control,” he notes, adding that they also spent time on the federal planning process and how the public can better participate, as well as reclamation and the energy industry.
Although all those topics were covered, he says sage grouse were really the issue at hand throughout the meeting’s second day.
“We had a presentation on sage grouse in general, and where the BLM is in their process, which is in the midst of drafting a programmatic for amending all the existing RMPs and the ones that are in development with the BLM’s spin on the sage grouse,” says Thompson. “In my opinion, I think they will stray from the Governor’s Executive Order.”
“We were told in the Lander RMP revision process that the BLM will adopt the Executive Order as their interim management memo, and that would be the revision into the RMPs, but there was also a slide presented that said the BLM will add new and different restrictions according to their take on things,” explains Thompson. “That tells me that we will not only have a layer of procedure and restrictions through the Governor’s Executive Order, but the BLM will also reserve the right to add new and different restrictions on top of it.”
Thompson gives timing stipulations as an example, where the BLM has “significantly expanded” what was promised to the Sage Grouse Implementation Team to a period from March 1 to July 15.
“The BLM sat right there through the whole two-year process, helped craft the order, and now they say they’ll use it, but put another layer of restrictions on top of it, at their discretion,” says Thompson. “That’s always been my concern – that, even though they’ll respect the existing regulations, they’ll add whatever they want to on top of them. That is very inconsistent in policy and regulations, but they said the federal government will not seed any of its authority to the state Executive Order. The feds will do what they want to do, and if it’s over and above the Executive Order, they will do that.”
In addition to how the BLM will relate to Wyoming’s Executive Order, the RAC also discussed what will happen in the state should the bird be listed despite its best efforts.
“The Executive Order was put in place to keep the bird from being listed as the driving factor, but if it is listed, then our conservation measures hopefully would exempt Wyoming,” says Thompson. “There was a statement made that there’s no guarantee of that. In fact, the contrary might be true – that no matter what we’re doing here, if all the other states don’t do their Fish and Wildlife Service-approved conservation measures, then the bird will probably be listed, and the Wyoming bird will be listed also.
“The order won’t be a get-out-of-jail-free card because of the efforts we’re making, which is disturbing because we’ve restricted ourselves, and it’s like the federal government is saying they won’t be bound by any of that – they’ll do what they want. The only remedy will be for private landowners and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs).”
Regarding whether or not the RAC’s advice will be taken seriously, Thompson says, “There’s a BLM guide called ‘Coordinated Community-Based Planning,’ and it includes some points that people should and shouldn’t do, and one that I brought up is that you can’t empower people, and then ignore them, because you destroy their trust. We’ll be taking our time studying the issues and giving advice, and I couched that in terms that we’d like to see some influence in the decisions that the DFO makes.”
The next topic the RAC will address at their October meeting in Pinedale will be reclamation, drill hole plugging and various mitigation efforts by energy companies. The January meeting will focus on the federal planning process.
“If there are issues out there with the BLM that folks would like to have brought forward, contact any of the members. We have the ability to become knowledgeable and see if it’s something we could take on and help resolve,” says Mackey. “We’re dealing with the governmental agencies, and sometimes they’re tied by what comes down from Washington, so sometimes the steps we take are pretty small, but my hope is that we can have a positive impact that will help Wyoming for the long haul.”
“The verdict is still out if we’ll have influence on things,” says Thompson. “That’s my concern – that if we’ll take our time and study the issues and provide sound advice, we’d like to see it used. If it’ll just be a whitewash, or some window dressing, I’m sure all of us have other things we could be doing that would be more productive. We’ll see as it unfolds if we’ll have some influence on the process.”