BLM looks toward implementation in sage grouse records of decisionWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – September marked the historic signing of range-wide Records of Decisions (RODs) for sage grouse amendments in the Bureau of Land Managements (BLM) land use plans.
“This was an extensive effort that hit every aspect of BLM,” said BLM’s Jenny Morton during a late-January Sage Grouse Density Disturbance Calculation Tool Training event in Casper. “The work was absolutely extensive.”
She added, “Even though the RODs are signed and out, we are trying to translate what the goals, objectives and management action included really mean on the ground.”
Morton said that with implementation, BLM is striving to be as consistent as possible while also recognizing that conditions on the ground and needs of individual areas are different.
“We need to consider how things mesh,” she explained. “At the same time, we need to start on consistent footing.”
Goals and objectives
Morton noted that while the Forest Service talks about Standards and Guidelines, BLM has similar goals, objectives and management actions.
“Our goals and objectives are more of what we hope to happen,” she explained. “The management actions are what we need to translate most consistently across field offices. We don’t have a list of those, and we aren’t ready to release those yet.”
BLM’s resource management plan (RMP) is working to translate what Wyoming’s Executive Orders mean to BLM, she added.
However, she continued, “There are places we have to differ because we are a multiple-use agency, and there are many complexities that the amendments and revisions introduce for our other uses.”
Morton also said that one of the benefits that BLM has in Wyoming is that the state and federal agency work very well together, but that isn't seen other places.
“We work so well with the state of Wyoming,” she said. “That is very different in many other states.”
The national-level guidance coming down was supposed to be completed within 90 days of the September RODs.
“That was Dec. 22, and we didn’t make that mark,” Morton said. “We are still working to put those together.”
At the same time, Morton noted that BLM is working on creating a comprehensive document that is error-free for the final version.
While implementing land use plans, Morton added that actions must be taken consistently across the board.
“We realize in this effort, that there were many activities we weren’t keeping track of. We were just not consistently keeping track of those from field office to field office, let alone from state to state,” she said. “We are working on improving that.”
Among their efforts, Morton said the agency working on a new tool to encourage consistent across-the-board data collection.
“Our National Operations Center is collecting all the databases from field offices across states to see how similar and different they are and to see if we can merge them into one tracking database,” Morton explained.
Finally, Morton noted that they are working on creating a national handbook that provides consistent guidance.
“I’ve been working on this with the Washington office,” she said. “This is all-encompassing guidance that spans past sage grouse conservation efforts. We are trying to figure out how to get all of our actions to fall within the lines of the sage grouse efforts.”
Within the process, Morton noted that BLM is working to avoid overburdening already strained resources.
“We are looking at a new infrastructure so existing workloads are not overburdened to collect monitoring data, work on mitigation and train everyone,” she explained.
In this process, Morton commented that five issues are currently under review by the agency.
“We are working with BLM and Wyoming’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT) to put out interim guidance,” she said, noting that guidance will clarify the scope of the amendment and revisions. “If the management action is analyzed, it has to be amended. We have to look to the final alternative to finalize management actions.”
Second, they are also looking at sagebrush focal areas (SFAs).
“We have talked about how SFAs were designated from Fish and Wildlife Service as highly important landscape for sage grouse,” Morton commented. “They were included in some of the plan revisions, but not in the Lander plan because they were created after the plan was signed.”
Handling SFAs in that region is one area of concern.
Wyoming areas of concern
“The third item we’ll talk about is working on interim guidance for what to do with the third and fourth versions of the core area map,” Morton said.
A new version of Wyoming’s core area map was released in version four, with some changes from the third version, which BLM used in the RODs.
She commented, “We are consulting with the Wyoming BLM office to resolve that.”
Lastly, they are looking at the impact of winter concentration areas on sage grouse populations.
“We are currently working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and SGIT to determine how we proceed forward,” Morton commented.
“Wyoming is ready, and Wyoming has a comprehensive structure in place,” Morton said. “We are standing by with ideas and solutions for the Washington office.”