The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife ("ODFW") is on the verge of adopting rules and a conservation strategy to protect the habitat of the greater sage-grouse (a federal candidate species under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA")). The proposal could greatly restrict energy and natural resource development in the entire southeast quadrant of the state (see the map of the affected lands here).The rules and strategy are currently open for public comment and will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 22, 2011 for consideration for adoption.
Interested parties have until April 6 to provide input on the rules and conservation strategy before this process becomes final (although ODFW will accept comments right up to the Commission meeting on April 22). Additionally, ODFW will ask the Commission on April 22 to approve the proposed rules without first publishing a final map. Interested parties should address the Commission on April 22 and may want to ask the Commission to delay adoption until after the map is final and the ultimate impacts of the rule on economic development in Oregon can be evaluated. Information on providing public comment on the rules and conservation strategy can be found here.
The ODFW will also be scheduling public meetings with local implementation teams to make minor changes to the boundaries of the map, but the guidelines for developing the map will have likely already been set by rule on April 22, so you should not expect to be able to make major changes at that time. These meetings will be announced publicly, but you can also email Christian Hagen at email@example.com if you would like to receive a notice of the upcoming meeting in your area.
The rules and conservation strategy restrict development of new projects that fall within Core Areas (most of southeast Oregon, see the map). The ODFW will follow Fish and Wildlife Habitat Mitigation Policy when defining habitat categories and providing recommendations on site-level impacts (or as part of a siting or permitting process). The ODFW intends to recommend that any sage-grouse habitat (even areas that could become habitat if left undeveloped) found within Core Areas be designated as Category 1 Habitat, or "irreplaceable, essential habitat." The ODFW's Category 1 Habitat policy is more restrictive than if the species were listed under the federal ESA. For example, the ODFW will not consider proposed habitat enhancements, conservation plans or other potential benefits when reviewing development proposals for Category 1 Habitat. The federal ESA allows far more flexibility while still providing for the survival and recovery of the species. While the ODFW is not a permitting agency itself, the ODFW's recommendations must be considered and would likely be adopted by permitting agencies such as the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. For these reasons, the proposed rules and conservation strategy will likely have a significant negative impact on energy and natural resource development in the southeast quadrant of Oregon.