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Sage Grouse Conversations: BLM hosts public meetings to discuss new sage grouse management plan

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During the last two weeks of April, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hosted a series of public meetings across the West to address its new draft plan for Greater sage grouse conservation and management on public lands. 

The last in-person meeting of the series took place at the Agricultural Resource Learning Center in Casper on April 24. 

Background information

To begin, Wyoming BLM Sage Grouse Coordinator Matt Holloran provided some background information on the agency’s past and present sage grouse management plans and why they have proposed a new one. 

He noted in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined Greater sage grouse were warranted for being listed under the Endangered Species Act, but it was precluded. In 2015, USFWS came to a non-warranted decision to list the species and came up with a management plan. Then in 2019, this plan was amended. 

“When this all started around two years ago, the decision was made by BLM to update and address some of the concerns in the 2019 plan and move into a new planning effort,” stated Holloran. “Based on new science which shows continued declines in the bird’s population and changes in habitat conditions, it was decided to move forward with the new planning effort.”

Holloran noted, more specifically, BLM used recent science on a range-wide connectivity movement of genetic material and the potential impacts of isolating populations, as well as research on habitat suitability and conditions and how climate change has impacted sagebrush habitat and distribution.

He also pointed out studies have found a 37 percent sage grouse population decline, on average, across the Western range.

Proposed action

Therefore, BLM set out to build on the 2015 and 2019 efforts, and the recent draft environment impact statement was born. 

“Our efforts focused on parts of the plan that needed to be updated in terms of management direction,” Holloran said. “There was a lot of emphasis on trying to build on what was already done in 2015 and 2019 and to focus on areas where science suggested changes needed to be made.” 

The BLM’s plan includes six alternatives, with Alternative Five as their preferred course of action. 

Holloran explained Alternative One includes the agency’s 2015 management plan and Alternative Two includes the 2019 management plan. The third alternative is conservation heavy and would essentially close all public lands deemed priority habitat to oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing, renewable energy development, etc.

“Alternative Four is halfway in between Alternatives Three and Five, with Alternative Five using the state’s core areas and adding flexibility into the management,” said Holloran. “Alternative Six is the same as Alternative Five, with the addition of areas of environmental concern.”

Preferred alternative

Unlike the leasing prioritization approach developed in the 2015 and 2019 plans – and therefore outlined in Alternatives One and Two – Holloran explained the fifth alternative has language which clearly articulates there will be no sage grouse habitat management areas closed to mineral development and leasing.

“It clearly establishes leasing is allowed in all sage grouse habitat management areas,” he stated. “So, there is an explicit fluid mineral leasing strategy established in Alternative Five.”

For renewable energy development, Holloran noted BLM’s goal is to meet the administration’s objectives.

“In the 2015 Wyoming plan, wind energy development and priority habitats were established as avoidance, but solar energy was not addressed,” he said. “Alternative Five clearly establishes priority habitats across the range are avoidance for wind and solar, and a right-of-way was established for major transmission lines.” 

For livestock grazing, Holloran said the goal is to “focus management on the potential threat of improper livestock grazing to sage grouse habitat.” 

“The vast majority of what is happening in the grazing section is clean-up,” he explained, adding habitat management strategies focused on grazing have been pulled from the resource management planning (RMP) stage and moved to “best management practice appendices.” 

“The reason those were pulled from the RMP and pushed into an appendix is because it makes modifying those tables easier moving forward,” he said. “If new science comes forward saying this metric or habitat component is important for habitat suitability, those changes can be made without having to amend the land use plan.” 

Further, Holloran explained during the planning effort, many stakeholders asked the agency address predators, as well as wild horses and burros. 

He pointed out the BLM does not manage predator species – they manage their habitat. So, as far as predators go, the agency noted they will help the entities who do manage predators to reduce the effect of predation. 

To address threats caused by wild horses and burros, the BLM will manage populations to the low end of an area’s established appropriate management level. 

Lastly, Holloran mentioned because sage grouse habitat differs across the Western range, Alternative Five will include state-specific circumstances. In Wyoming, this includes the addition of a stewardship habitat management area in the Powder River Basin.

Moving forward

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

Holloran shared the public’s feedback and on-the-ground expertise is critical for the agency to move forward and highly encouraged individuals to submit substantive comments online at the BLM’s ePlanning website. 

“The big thing is we are trying to get a durable plan the BLM can move forward with, so there is a big push for substantive comments from the public,” he said. “The public review period in the National Environmental Policy Act process is extremely important, so please submit substantive comments.” 

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

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