Grouse management, Sage grouse alternatives discussed
Casper – The Bureau of Land Management is holding public meetings throughout the state in reference to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Wyoming Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Land Use Plan (LUP) amendments.
One public meeting in Casper was held Feb. 5 at the BLM Casper Field Office. Upcoming meetings will be held Feb. 11 – 13 in Pinedale, Rock Springs and Rawlins, respectively.
“We are in the comment period of the draft and welcome any comments or questions the public may have,” said BLM Wildlife Biologist Lisa Solberg Schwab. “The purpose of these presentations is to give the public an overview of the sage grouse project and an idea to what all the differences are between our alternatives to the plan.”
The comment period began Dec. 27 and will continue to March 27. Public meetings for the alternatives for the proposed plan began the first week of February.
In April 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that the greater sage grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act.
One of the primary threats the FWS identified was a lack of regulatory mechanisms for protection for the birds.
The DEIS has now become part of a national effort that includes the greater sage grouse conservation measures and regulatory mechanisms into the RMP and LUPs.
The cooperators of this project who participated in the development of the alternatives for the DEIS include nine federal agencies, eight Wyoming agencies, 16 Wyoming counties and 10 conservation districts.
“One of our objectives for maintaining sage grouse habitat is to increase the current sage grouse abundance and distribution by conserving, enhancing or restoring sage grouse ecosystems,” said Schwab.
Wyoming as a whole contains 50 percent of the greater sage grouse habitat, regardless of land ownership. The state also contains 57 percent of range-wide sage grouse populations.
“All of the alternatives have a different amount of disturbance that we are allowing, so we can analyze what it would look like at different levels,” explained Schwab. “The disturbance will be evaluated using a web-based density and a disturbance calculation tool.”
Alternative A is a continuation of the present course of management for the greater sage grouse and does not have a level of disturbance.
Alternative B is based on the conservation measures and management actions develop by the National Technical Team (NTT) planning effort and measures to maintain and protect the priority sage grouse habitat. A surface disturbance cap of three percent is allowed with this plan.
“The highest conservation value to maintain or increase the populations of the sage grouse are in alternative B,” described Schwab. “The conservation measures include protections such as right away exclusions and fluid mineral lease closures.”
Alternative C is based on the recommendations from citizen groups and also has a disturbance cap of three percent. In this alternative, all habitat areas will be closed to livestock grazing.
Alternative D is a sub-regional alternative that encompasses local adjustments, the NTT report and the Wyoming Governor’s Executive Order on the greater sage grouse core area strategy that was developed by cooperating agencies.
It also has a balance level of protection, restoration, enhancement and use of resources and services to meet ongoing programs and land uses. The disturbance cap for this alternative is at nine percent.
Alternative E is the preferred alternative and is also a sub-regional alternative that incorporates local adjustments, the Governor’s Executive Order and NTT recommendations. Conservation measures under this alternative will focus on priority, general and connectivity habitats of the sage grouse.
The surface disturbance cap for Alternative E is five percent.
All of the alternatives will allow for livestock grazing except for Alternative C.
Of the five alternatives that were created for the DEIS, the BLM can utilize any mixture of the alternatives to create a final proposed plan.
“After the public comment period, we will start looking at all of the public comments and start analyzing everything to create the final proposal,” said Schwab. “We plan to have the final proposal done in fall 2014.”
Schwab added, “Comments are not to be used as votes for or against a decision.”
The FWS has until 2015 to make a final determination on whether or not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.