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BLM releases updated draft plan for sage grouse management

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During the second full week of March, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its long-awaited draft plan for Greater sage grouse conservation and management on public lands, which will shape public land use across 10 states and tens of millions of acres in the West.

According to the agency, this draft resource management plan amendment was prepared in response to the continued loss of sage grouse habitat, despite ongoing conservation practices and the BLM’s previous planning efforts.

In fact, BLM notes sage grouse populations, which were once in the millions, now number fewer than 800,000, largely due to habitat loss caused by drought, wildfire and invasive species.

“Protecting and restoring sagebrush on BLM-managed public lands across the West is critical, not just for Greater sage grouse but also for the health of Western communities and other iconic Western species which rely on healthy sagebrush, including mule deer, pronghorn and the pygmy rabbit,” reads the BLM’s March 14 press release, which announced the draft plan.

“Additionally, these collaboratively developed landscape-level plans will ensure other multiple uses of BLM sagebrush lands, including clean energy projects, move forward in a manner limiting impacts to sensitive resources and can also help combat climate change – the main driver of Greater sage grouse habitat loss,” the brief continues. 

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning states, “The majesty of the West and its way of life are at stake. Sagebrush lands are places where people work and play, and they are the headwaters for the West’s major rivers.” 

“Joint efforts to conserve the Greater sage grouse and its habitat led to the largest collaborative conservation effort in our history, and we are building on this work together with our partners to ensure the health of these lands and local economies into the future,” she adds.

Draft plan details 

According to BLM, the agency considered over 1,900 comments gathered during the initial public scoping period, as well as information shared by stakeholders in more than 100 meetings to ensure the draft plan was “informed by the best available science and input from local, state, federal and Tribal partners.”

The plan outlines six alternatives, covering a range of sage grouse management practices on public lands. 

Under Alternative One, according to the agency’s executive summary, BLM would re-adopt all applicable sage grouse habitat management area boundaries, goals, objectives and actions from the 2015 records of decision (ROD) and approved resource management plan amendment (ARMPA).

“This alternative also includes designation of some areas of priority habitat designation (PHMA) as sagebrush focal areas with a recommendation to withdraw them from mineral location and entry under the Mining Law of 1872 and prioritization for various other activities related to vegetation treatments, livestock grazing and wild horses and burros,” the document reads.

Alternative Two is the “no-action” alternative, which includes applicable decisions from the 2019 Greater sage grouse RODs and ARMPAs.

Alternative Three is the most restrictive of the six and would designate 11,139,472 acres of areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs).

Under this alternative, all habitat management areas would be managed as PHMA, which would be closed to new fluid mineral leasing, saleable minerals and mineral materials, nonenergy leasable minerals leasing and livestock grazing. 

The agency’s fourth alternative would update habitat management area boundaries and associated management based on new information and science which has become available since the 2015 and 2019 efforts. 

“While many of the allocations would be similar to Alternatives One and Two, areas to which management would be applied are updated to reflect new science,” states the document. “In Wyoming, all PHMA management would be changed to no surface occupancy stipulations for new oil and gas leases – all other states already have this stipulation in PHMA.” 

The BLM has identified Alternative Five as its preferred alternative. Under Alternative Five, BLM would balance sage grouse conservation and management with other public land uses. 

“Alternative Five considers options with fewer restrictions on resources and provides more opportunities for considering compensatory mitigation to offset impacts on Greater sage grouse and its habitat,” explains the agency. 

Lastly, under Alternative Six, management of all habitat management areas would be the same as Alternative Five, with the addition of designating ACECs. 

Industry response 

Since the draft plan’s release, several ag industry stakeholders have voiced their opinion on the matter, many of which urge BLM to incorporate the latest research in its final plan. 

In a news brief dated March 15, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) notes, “After completing revisions to the plans in 2015 and again in 2019, the agency is currently amending 77 separate land use plans across the West and could potentially designate millions of acres as new ACECs.”

NCBA President and Wyoming Rancher Mark Eisele says, “This proposal has been years in the making. It will have far-reaching implications for how states conserve sage grouse habitat and how Western ranchers are able to operate going forward.”

“The BLM must extend the comment period and give local stakeholders more time to engage in this process and this process must be driven, first and foremost, by sound science,” Eisele adds.

PLC President Mark Roeber, a federal grazing permittee in the state of Colorado, cites a recent 10-year research study conducted by the University of Idaho, which confirmed livestock grazing actually benefits sage grouse populations by increasing biomass and diversity of insect species for food; reducing the risk of wildfire, which can kill sage grouse and destroy habitats and reducing the volume of cheatgrass and other invasive grasses which degrade the sagebrush biome. 

“The agency must look at the science and leverage livestock grazing as a tool for strength,” Roeber states.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) adds, “For decades, Wyoming has led the country in successful sage grouse conservation efforts. Imposing sweeping regulations has hindered these efforts in the past and will only be ineffective in the future.”

“The BLM should rely on local experts in Wyoming and across the West as it updates its plan,” he continues. “The bureau’s final plan must allow activities essential to Wyoming’s economy – including energy production and livestock grazing – to thrive.” 

Public input

The release of the BLM’s draft plan kicked off a 90-day public comment period, which will end on June 13. 

The agency will hold 13 public meetings to answer questions and provide more detailed information on the draft.

All in-person meetings will be open-house style and include a presentation and opportunities for questions and answers. Details on meeting venues and times will be posted on the project website at least 15 days prior to each meeting. 

Two virtual meeting will be held April 9 and April 25. 

Other meetings are scheduled for April 11 in Billings, Mont.; April 16 in Reno, Nev.; April 17 in Craig, Colo. and Lakeview, Ore.; April 18 in Cheyenne, Boise, Idaho and Ontario, Ore.; April 22 in Rock Springs; April 23 in Worland and Salt Lake City and April 24 in Casper. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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