State lands to address sage grouse core areasWritten by Christy Hemken
“Those leases are what they are – a legal agreement between the state and a wind developer that were signed previous to the establishment of sage grouse core areas,” explains Arnold of the three leases that are already finalized.
“Those three are all developed, and they’re exempt. We can’t put stipulations on a lease into which we’ve already entered,” he adds. “You can’t sign a legal contract and change it every time something else changes.”
A fourth lease came before the Board of Land Commissioners at their last meeting, and that lease will be subject to the executive order pertaining to sage grouse core areas.
“That lease, which was approved during the last board meeting for Horizon Wind Energy, will be subject to core area stipulations,” says Arnold.
Of lease applications, Arnold says staff reviews everything that comes in, with the first determination being whether or not the proposed project is in a core area. “If it is, we send them a list of questions we’ve developed with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to figure out their potential impacts,” explains Arnold.
Responses are sent to the WGFD for review and development of stipulations appropriate for the proposed use. On Aug. 7, 2008 the Board of Land Commissioners approved the initial resource use stipulations that would be applied to authorizations for new resources and/or the renewal of existing activities on state lands.
“Those stipulations were designed to maintain existing habitat function and not cause declines in sage grouse populations,” says Arnold.
Following that release Arnold says wind energy interests expressed an interest in providing their input, which resulted in an April 9, 2009 board matter amending the existing stipulations.
“Those changes were to make those stipulations more specific and easier for the operators to use,” says Arnold.
Of grazing leases, he says they’re “status quo” at this time. “We’re talking about temporary use permits, easements, special use leases and improvements on grazing leases,” says Arnold. “Those are the things we look at. Any activity outside of existing grazing we look at to ensure sage grouse and habitat are protected.”
The evaluation and stipulation process also applies to easements for transmission lines through sage grouse core areas.
“The Office is aware of letter the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sent to the Wyoming Game and Fish and we’re reviewing that and determining what steps should be taken,” says Arnold of the future. “We’re looking at all opportunities right now, and we’re looking as a Board at what directives are coming down.”
Deputy Director of State Lands Susan Child says the Board of Land Commissioners will have to make a decision in light of the FWS letter at the upcoming August meeting in Cheyenne.
“At this time leases that have already been issued are subject to the stipulations in the leases and we can’t change that,” says Child. “The operator could do something on a voluntary basis, but we cannot require them to do anything.”
“Right now we’re operating under the stipulations and evaluating new information in order to make recommendations to the Board,” says Arnold.