BLM issues new sage grouse guidance
With the appearance of two new instructional memorandums (IMs) issued by the BLM on Dec. 27, wildlife biologist Chris Keefe of the Wyoming BLM says Wyoming is in good shape in terms of regulatory mechanisms.
“We feel like we have the necessary guidance right now in terms of regulatory mechanisms that have been developed for conservation of grouse in the core areas,” says Keefe. “We have a state level BLM IM that adopts that strategy, and we feel like we are pretty covered.”
The first of the two IMs addresses interim management policies and procedures for sage grouse conservation while resource management plans (RMPs) are being updated, stating that the policies described for interim management are designed to minimize habitat loss and to allow the maintenance or restoration of habitats.
“The Interim Management IM is guidance that is intended to protect decision space,” says Keefe.
“The BLM doesn’t want us to approve any actions now that would limit alternatives, in the hope that these decisions will be made through the appropriate channels,” he continues, referencing the RMP revision process. “They don’t want to foreclose on the ability to select a different alternative.”
A BLM press release noted that this guidance will not apply in Wyoming, with the exception of grazing, as a Wyoming IM has been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and adopted by BLM.
The second IM was attached to a National Technical Team report that Keefe described as the “state of the science.”
“A number of scientists from different agencies and states got together to fully understand what the science tells us we should do in a perfect world to turning around sage grouse populations from declining to increasing,” explains Keefe. “The Planning Direction IM tells us what should be done or could be done.”
Keefe continues that the guidance allows the BLM to analyze how management alternatives affect sage grouse. It provides protection measures to be incorporated into the alternatives when updating RMPs.
For example, if a measure proposes to limit protection to three percent of sage grouse habitat protected from five percent, Keefe says the IM looks at what the measure would do in terms of socio-economic impacts and allowable development, as well as how it would affect sage grouse.
“This is what it says with strictly sage grouse blinders on,” says Keefe. “It doesn’t mean that we should select the alternative, but it is one of the alternatives.”
“The IM says we should consider these things, but what we select is going to be based on all of the pressures and thoughts revolving around the various factors,” explains Keefe. “Some of those factors are socio-economic impacts and the competing interests of other wildlife. Just because an action is good for sage grouse doesn’t necessarily mean it should be the objective.”
“As usual, we are walking the middle ground to conserve sage grouse,” he continues, “but we also have a responsibility to conserve livelihoods and working landscapes.”
“The aim of these science-based measures is to maintain and restore flourishing populations of greater sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said of the IMs in a BLM press release. “We are working to do this in a way that protects the health of our land, while also facilitating safe and responsible energy development and recreational opportunities that power our economy. By proactively addressing sage grouse conservation concerns on BLM lands, we also hope to maintain the widest possible range of options for our neighboring landowners.”
The IMs are attached to the BLM’s National Greater Sage Grouse Planning Strategy, and Keefe notes that the Wyoming BLM will continue both amending and revising RMPs around the state as part of the strategy.
The process for amending and revising RMPs is different, with amendments only involving changes for sections of the plans related to sage grouse management. Pinedale, Kemmerer, Rock Springs, Rawlins, Casper and Newcastle field offices will be amending their plans, while the remaining planning areas, including Buffalo, Cody, Lander and Worland, are undergoing a revision of their land use plans.
“The revision is a much greater effort,” explains Keefe. “A revision looks at revising the entire plan and management of all resources.”
All amendments and revisions are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014, at which point the interim measures would expire.
“By the summer of 2014, all of these actions should be complete, and the interim period should end,” adds Keefe.
During the interim period, Keefe notes that Wyoming will continue to follow the core area strategy for managing the species.
Some opposition to the IMs has arisen, marking that the measures aren’t adequate, but Keefe says, “Some groups feel like it doesn’t go far enough to protect sage grouse during this interim period, and some think it goes way too far. It is wholly dependent of who you are talking to whether this direction has gone too far or not far enough.”
Keefe adds, “We are still absorbing this guidance, so it is a little unclear what kind of changes might occur.”
While Keefe anticipates that Wyoming is prepared to comply with the IMs and any change would be minor, he says, “There could be some unforeseen changes that are necessary as we work through this and observe further.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.