Budd looks inside RMPs, dispels misconceptions
Laramie – Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Executive Director Bob Budd called “not warranted” two of the greatest words in the English language, especially when put together, during a presentation at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Society for Range Management Wyoming Section and Wyoming Weed and Pest Council joint convention, held Nov. 3-5.
He noted that, while sage grouse were not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, there is still work to be done, particularly when looking at implementation of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service Resource Management Plans (RMPs) released at the end of September.
“I often hear that the RMPs are a new set of standards for what rangeland management is going to be,” Budd said. “That is not the case. What the RMPs have done is said that these are the desired conditions for sage grouse based on everything we know.”
Delving into the RMPs, Budd noted that the desired condition of a seven-inch screening cover during the sage grouse nesting season is often the first number targeted by concerned producers.
“If we have the capability to produce a seven-inch screening cover, the birds will select that area first, is what the RMP says,” Budd explained. “It doesn’t say we have to produce it.”
He continued, “In fact, in most of Wyoming, I’d guess we can’t produce it.”
As an example, Budd targeted the Upper Green River Valley, where snowdrifts are common during the sage grouse nesting season of April through June.
“That grass height isn’t something we can achieve,” he said. “That is one of the challenges we are working on right now as we work through implementation.”
Rather, Budd commented that producers should focus on what is right in the areas in which they live.
“Right now, the way the RMPs are laid out for Forest Service and BLM is that the desired condition has to be consistent with the ecological capacity of the site and the normal variability of climate, rainfall and other things,” he said.
Budd noted, however, that is it important to have the necessary information to determine ecological capacity of a site to establish the desired condition.
“The capability to produce grass at a specific site is what should guide us,” he said. “To get that, we better make sure to have the soil survey, and we need to have an ecological site description that is correct for the site. We have to be prepared to sort out the anomalies within that.”
In addition, Budd said that the whole environment in an area must be considered, rather than just small segments because sage grouse is a landscape species.
Budd also said that improvements and work have to be prioritized.
“It is logical that prioritization is going to follow this kind of rigor in the areas that are specific focal areas for sage grouse,” he said. “We are going to look at the places that have the most birds and the best habitat first.”
Allotments meeting desired conditions and ecological objectives are likely to be lower on the priority list for projects compared to those areas that need improvements.
“Do we have a radical change coming as a result of the RMPs? I think the answer is no,” added Budd.
He also noted, however, that there are several anomalies that “slipped through the cracks” and need to be fixed.
“We are working on fixing those things now, and we are doing it in a willing atmosphere,” Budd said. “It is not an adversarial atmosphere.”
Forest Service and BLM have been willing and open to making several changes, and all parties are working together willingly, he noted.
“We have to constantly remind ourselves to bring this back to reality,” Budd said. “It is too easy to throw out a big net and talk in generalities, but the true test for all of us will be to get it right where we live.”
Budd also referenced the Governor’s Executive Order and recent changes made in July to the Order.
“There are two changes that relate to grazing,” he said.
First, the July amendments to the Executive Order added several areas that had very high sage grouse productivity in core areas.
“Most of those areas were analyzed in 2008 and 2010 when we did the mapping,” Budd explained. “There wasn’t the data at that time to make them core areas, but this time they came back with the data, and these areas needed to be added.”
At the same time, core areas that did not meet the definition were removed.
As a result of the July changes, amendments will likely be necessary in the RMPs to reflect the core areas.
“These aren’t radical changes, but they will need to be resolved,” Budd said. “That will require plan amendments.”
The other change is that a biological review will be required if there are potential impacts to a lek from improvements.
Budd noted that the standard is open-ended and gives increased protection to landowners to say that their improvements were looked at for their impacts.
“I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it here. This is not going to be smooth sailing,” Budd commented on implementation. “It will be a bumpy ride. We need to prepare for that, be open-eyed and honest as we go into this.”
Despite the challenges sure to be ahead, Budd said that the state of Wyoming have developed positive relationships with BLM and Forest Service that has allowed open dialogue grounded in the best science.
“This is a biological, ecological discussion, and I want to keep it there,” he said. “If we do that, our concerns will resolve themselves relatively easily.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.