Instruction Memorandums BLM issues long-awaited IMs for sage grouseWritten by Saige Albert
After Resource Management Plans came out on Sept. 22, 2015 from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to determine land use across the agency’s land in the West, on Sept. 1, BLM released seven Instruction Memorandums (IMs) to clarify how certain aspects of those plans will be implemented.
“Consistent with our unprecedented cooperation in developing the Greater sage grouse plans, the implementation policies we released were developed in coordination with our partners in the states and interested stakeholders,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said. “These IMs respond to state and stakeholder desires to see clear and consistent application of our management activities across the western Greater sage grouse states while providing the flexibility needed to respond to local situations and concerns. Although each policy guides the specifics of a single issue in great detail, they all share the same goal of effectively conserving the West’s sagebrush sea for the benefit of the people and animals who depend on it.”
The IMs cover oil and gas leasing and development; grazing permit review priorities; grazing management thresholds and responses; adaptive management triggers; disturbance tracking; effectiveness monitoring; and habitat assessment framework.
The purpose of an instruction memorandum is to guide agency folks in how to implement what is present in the Records of Decision for the Resource Management Plans (RMP).
Jessica Crowder of the Wyoming Governor’s Office says, “We compliment BLM for providing states, including Wyoming, the opportunity to offer comments on two occasions. It is clear that BLM listened and addressed our concerns in some areas.”
Crowder also notes, however, that several concerns were not addressed, and the Wyoming Governor’s Office believes that additional clarification is needed.
Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), however, comments, “I was very discouraged by what I saw in the IMs. They serve to emphasize the things in the Records of Decision for RMPs that were so discouraging.”
“In my first look, I didn’t see that they helped to clarify much, if anything,” he adds.
With the release of the documents just several weeks ago, Crowder notes that is it too early to tell what impact the IMs will have on Wyomingites.
“At a minimum the BLM should ensure that these IMs and the overarching RMPs have no negative impact on producers in Wyoming who are managing their lands properly or working to improve their management in consideration of Greater sage grouse,” she says.
Magagna notes that five of the IMs impact Wyomingites more than the other two.
The simplest one to understand discusses prioritization of grazing allotments.
“That IM shows that those allotments in sage grouse focal areas will the highest priority,” he explains. “Within those, allotments that are due to have permit revisions will be a priority.”
Additionally, those allotments that have been shown to not meet rangeland health standards are also of a priority to analyzes and potentially modify before they are renewed.
As Magagna continues to analyze the IMs, he says that WSGA membership will be kept apprised of the information contained in the documents.
“These are public documents, but they don’t have a public review process,” he adds. “We hope there is flexibility and Wyoming BLM is afforded some flexibility in implementation.”
There is some talk that states will develop additional IMs to further clarify what is included in RMPs.
Crowder adds, “We will continue to work with BLM Wyoming to ensure these IMs do not impact the positive work of ranchers across Wyoming.”
While the IMs will dictate management on the ground, Magagna also notes that the emphasis for many ag groups has been on language in another bill – the National Defense Authorization Act in the House of Representatives.
“That bill has language that would prohibit a listing of sage grouse for 10 years,” Magagna explains. “It would also give the states the option, not the obligation, to manage under approved state plans rather than under the federal plan for the next five years.”
“We would really like to see these measures pass,” he continues. “The federal government has said that Wyoming’s plan has adequate regulatory mechanisms, and we’ve heard the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior praise the ground-up, local efforts on sage grouse. We want to use our plans.”
Magagna further comments, “If we could get congressional relief, I think that will lead to renewed enthusiasm for work on what is reasonable to positively impact sage grouse.”
On the ground
With uncertainty in the future, Crowder notes that it is most important that producers stay involved in the monitoring and management of public lands that they use.
“This has been said before, but implementation may be a bit rocky at first. Adjustments to implementation strategies may need to occur to improve outcomes,” Crowder says. “This is best achieved if BLM – and the State of Wyoming – has input from ranchers on the process.”