On May 29, 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, released Final Environmental Impact Statements for proposed amendments to existing Resource Management Plans (RMPs) for lands in ten western states. The RMP amendments would establish conservation measures for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) for approximately 50 million acres of federally-managed lands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The proposed RMP amendments are intended to reduce greater sage grouse habitat fragmentation by minimizing new and additional surface disturbances, establishing buffers between resource developments and areas critical to the sage grouse life-cycle, restoring and enhancing habitat and requiring mitigation to address unavoidable development impacts on sage grouse habitat, and reducing threats of rangeland fire through fuel management and fire-impacted landscape restoration measures. The public comment period on the Final Environmental Impact Statements is from May 29, 2015 to June 29, 2015. BLM is expected to adopt the plans in late summer, following a 60-day state review period.
Last month, Senator Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced a bill that would effectively subordinate BLM’s management of the species to that of the ten subject states. The bill requires BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to implement state conservation and management plan recommendations on federally-managed lands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The state plans establish varying standards of protection for the species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated the greater sage grouse a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010, but found its listing to be “warranted but precluded” by higher priority listings at that time. A court-approved settlement requires FWS to make a listing determination by September 2015. The conservation measures proposed by BLM’s RMP amendments will be “central” to FWS’s forthcoming decision regarding the greater sage grouse’s ESA conservation status. According to Noreen Walsh, FWS’s Mountain-Prairie Regional Director, the BLM plan amendments are “essential for the Service’s evaluation of whether the species still warrants federal protection.”