Sage Grouse Implementation Team continues working on implementation of plans, mapping effortsWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – With the release of a “not warranted” decision for sage grouse, followed by the Record of Decision (ROD) for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service land use plan amendments, Wyoming’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT) is facing another big question – how does Wyoming continue to balance conservation with economics while implementing these plans?
“This is a monumental effort,” SGIT Chairman Bob Budd commented. “We have to be patient as we implement these RODs.”
The SGIT will continue its work over the entirety of the implementation period for the BLM and Forest Service RODs, and Budd commented that over the next 30 days, team members will be working to identify discrepancies in the RODs.
While acknowledging that the work of SGIT is far from complete, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead spoke to the committee and praised their efforts. Mead added that the work of the team was important to the decision not to list the Greater sage grouse as endangered.
“We value wildlife and recognize what it does for our quality of life,” Mead said. “When a state like Wyoming, who gets 70 percent of its revenue from minerals, finds a way to balance wildlife and energy, it is a remarkable accomplishment. My heart-felt thanks goes to all of you. This has sent ripples across Wyoming and the West as a very positive step.”
“This effort will be recognized for many years to come on how to address issues with species,” Mead said. “The work of this team has continued to benefit the industry across Wyoming, and this decision was a direct result of its good work.”
As implementation occurs, BLM has designated $60 million in funding, and at the current point, work is ongoing to determine workload requirements and staffing needs.
“In getting these plans implemented, we understand that resources are needed, but can we partake in that as well so we can do the things we have committed to the process?” asked Jeremiah Reiman of Gov. Mead’s office. “There may be a push to add some resources to states.”
For example, Montana is working to improve their density disturbance calculation tool (DDCT) and is reportedly seeking some federal resources in the development of the plan.
While it is widely recognized that implementation of the RODs won’t be an easy task, Budd commented, “It is going to be bumpy, but if we have decent communication and do what we’ve done, we can raise our concerns and get them fixed.”
Others noted that, as the largest landscape-scale conservation effort ever undertaken, challenges are to be expected.
“It is up to us to continue this effort forward in an intelligent and patient way,” said Brian Rutledge of Audubon Wyoming. “We aren't shocked if we have issues, and we will work to solve them.”
Among their other efforts related to sage grouse, the SGIT has taken on an effort to enhance lek mapping throughout the state.
“In all of the leks identified throughout the state, it has become apparent that some of the data is incorrect,” commented Budd. “Our meeting in November will be focused on that.”
For example, Budd noted that the criteria used to identify leks have resulted in some areas being identified where birds do not exist.
Budd noted that they have also begun looking at and classifying lek quality.
“Do we have a way to account for the importance of a lek? Obviously a lek that has 400 birds is more important than one with four birds,” he said, also noting that an adjustment should be made based on the capability of an area to support birds. “There are no 400-bird leks in the Big Horn Basin, and there probably won’t be, so is a 40-bird lek one that is important there?”
In developing a comparative lek ranking system, a small committee tested a number of iterations, determining that a model that classifies the area within a lek as high, moderate or low productivity would be most effective.
“In our maps, the purple areas have the highest productivity in the core area,” Budd said. “The green is next, followed by the gray. The central core is where we have the most birds.”
For practical use, the model may be used to determine where to focus mitigation efforts first, as well as areas that are highest priority to avoid first in development.
“The purpose of this started with mitigation,” Budd commented. “We aren’t doing anything yet with this, but I think we will be looking at it down the road. We need to refine it and start looking at it closer.”
The committee’s next meeting will be held in January.