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Public comment period closing soon as BLM eyes new sage grouse regulations

A male greater sage grouse puffs out his chest to impress the ladies.
Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation

News Brief

The Bureau of Land Management is once again reviewing how it manages sage grouse habitat across 10 Western states.

Before we get into the details, though, let’s rewind. Back in 2015, a bunch of public and private stakeholders created land use plans across the West to protect sage grouse and avoid an Endangered Species Act listing.

For many states, that plan changed in 2019, favoring more industry and development. But a federal judge in Idaho blocked the changes, and last year the Biden administration restored the plans adopted in 2015.

Now, the BLM is looking at its land use plans again.

“The BLM will examine new scientific information, including the effects of stressors like climate change, invasive grasses, wildfire and drought, to assess actions that may best support sagebrush habitat conservation and restoration on public lands to benefit sage grouse and surrounding communities,” the agency stated.

That also includes reviewing challenges with wild horse and burro populations, and the development of renewable energy, fossil fuels and energy transmission.

“Depending on who you talk to, people are calling this the sage grouse plans 3.0 or the 20th round of sage grouse restoration policy plans,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Idaho Wildlife Federation.

Brooks said that while all this has been happening, the grouse’s populations continued to shrink.

“Since we started in earnest tracking sage grouse numbers, the population has declined by 80%,” he said, noting recent USGS findings that the decline sped up over the last few decades.

Brooks said that shows the sage grouse conservation plans require big changes to avoid an endangered species listing, which would impose broad and potentially burdensome federal restrictions across public and private lands.

“We really can’t just be rearranging chairs on the Titanic here to do little tweaks here and there to stop a sinking ship. We really need to look at what is causing it to sink,” he said.

When it comes to issues like wildfire's impacts on sage grouse habitat, Brooks says part of the problem is invasive species like cheatgrass, which burns easier than many other native plants.

“Fire in itself is not always bad, it’s invasive species that burn very easily and have lots of fuels that make fires a lot worse,” he said. “Little patch fires here and there (are) actually quite good.”

He says the Idaho Wildlife Federation is currently working with agriculture, sportsmen and energy interests in an effort to jointly write suggestions and comments for the BLM plan.

The public can comment on the plan, too, through February 8. Just go to the BLM’s national NEPA register. To watch some of the public meetings BLM has held on the matter, you can find recordings of those here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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