Sage grouse comment period extended by BLM

News
Feb 10, 2012

The conversation on sage grouse isn’t over yet. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have extended the comment period on their proposed ruling until March 23. They are seeking public comment regarding topics that should be addressed in the evaluation of sage grouse issues.

The potential listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act has had massive impact on ranching in many western states. The biggest contention is that listing the sage grouse could dramatically curtail the use of public lands for grazing in the west as well as affect how private land owners can use their property.

The proposed rule currently at issue has been called unworkable by many cattlemen. Nevada rancher and Cattlemen’s Beef Association committee member Joe Guild criticized it, calling it a move from multiple-use ideas of public lands to nonuse and strict preservation.

The response of anti-grazing activists seems to support the worry of a move to non-use of public lands. Groups like the Western Watershed Project (WWP) have capitalized on the possible listing of the sage grouse, using the bird as a tool in their efforts against livestock grazing.

WWP filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) following the service’s determination that the situation of the sage grouse warranted listing, but resource constraints forced attention be placed on more threatened species. WWP alleged USFWS was shirking their responsibilities to the birds, which they saw as deserving full listing status.

Cattlemen have been wary of the proposed rulings regarding sage grouse and the possible federal regulation involved. Most prefer private, regionally-specific conservation measures which have proven quite effective.

Producer concern over the possibility of the bird’s listing stems also from what many see as questionable science and lack of facts to support proposed actions.

Guild commented on the proposed ruling, saying cattlemen oppose the requirement to “maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern.” The grounds for this contention are that no scientific consensus exists on what level of any given population is viable or how it is to be managed even if such a number is identified.

Jared Brackett, Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) vice president, expressed frustration at similar issues of missing or questionable data. His particular concern was over the conflicting reports on grazing’s impact on sage grouse.

“I’ve heard from a number of people from various groups who say proper grazing has no negative impact on sage grouse. And many reports

show grazing has beneficial impacts, preventing the fires that really threaten the bird. Then you have others who say [grazing is] detrimental. There’s a real disconnect there.”

In a press release, Richard Savage, ICA president, also commented on cattle grazing’s fire prevention benefits.

“Reduced grazing of lands leads to a decrease in active management which can result in an increase in catastrophic wildfires, the primary threat to sage grouse in Idaho.”

Many ranchers have been proactive about conservation efforts on their own property to help stave off BLM regulation, and a few have even been recognized for their dedication and efforts.

Bracket described a number of individual ranchers’ efforts to protect sage grouse in his area. One unique story involved ranchers tying reflective fladry to their fences near roads in an attempt to discourage sage grouse from flying into traffic where they could be struck by vehicles.

“We do a lot for the birds,” said Brackett. “We’ve taken great strides as stewards of the land, setting aside areas for them, changing grazing patterns around their breeding cycles, using rotational grazing so cattle aren’t in one place too long.”

The move to extend the comment scoping period on BLM’s and USFS’ proposed sage grouse ruling has been welcomed by ranchers and cattle associations. It has been seen as evidence of the agencies’ concern for cattlemen’s interests and a willingness to listen. Brackett commended the extension and empathized with the situation faced by the agencies.

“The BLM really does try to do things right, but their hands are tied a lot of the time because of the threat of lawsuits. I think that’s why they’ve extended the scoping period; they need to cover themselves in the future. Be able to say ‘yes, we considered everything.’” Additional comments on the sage grouse issue are being accepted through March 23, 2012. Comments are accepted on a regional basis with affected regions broken into western and eastern regions. Methods for commenting include email, fax and traditional mail.

Comments for the western region can be emailed to SageWest@blm.gov, faxed to 775/861-6747, or mailed to the Western Region Project Manager, BLM Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV 89502.

Comments for the eastern region can be emailed to SageEast@blm.gov, faxed to 307/775-6042, or mailed to the Eastern Region Project Manager, BLM Wyoming State Office, 5353 Yellowstone, Cheyenne, WY 82009.

More information—and website commenting abilities—can be found on the BLM site, BLM.gov, searchphrase “sage grouse comment.” — Kerry Halladay,

WLJ Editor

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