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Court Ruling Halting Grazing Allotments Underscores Need for Management Changes
Brian Ertz, Western Watersheds Project 208-830-2120
The federal government’s landmark planning effort to conserve Greater Sage-grouse populations and habitat will be expanded to include more habitat for the imperiled species. The planning process, led by the Bureau of Land Management, will now include 11 more national forests in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. The Forest Service had already included nine national forests and grasslands to the process. In response to strong public interest and the expanded planning area, public comments will now be accepted until March 23.
“Conserving sage-grouse is about conserving some of the last wide-open spaces in the West,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy advisor for American Bird Conservancy. “The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service are taking the right approach and doing a good job of engaging the public but the process should be expanded further to include all sage-grouse habitat on federal lands.”
Sage-grouse occur on approximately 70 million acres of federal land in eleven states administered by as many as seven federal departments and agencies. Conservation organizations have repeatedly advised that the sage-grouse planning process include and prescribe the same management prescriptions for all federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service, as well as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the departments of Energy and Defense.
“Different agencies acting independently will manage sage-grouse differently, likely to the detriment of the species,” said Mark Salvo, Director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians. “Developing a single plan to manage sage-grouse the same way throughout its range just makes sense.”
Sage-grouse are affected by myriad land uses, including livestock grazing. Earlier this week, a federal court reversed approval of five grazing areas covering over 300,000 acres of public lands managed by the BLM in Idaho. The court found that the agency had not assessed the cumulative impacts of its grazing decisions on populations and habitat for the Greater Sage-Grouse.
BLM’s proposed measures to protect sage-grouse, including increased grazing and reducing standards for grazing, were also determined to be harmful to sage-grouse populations. The court also stated that BLM is required to prioritize conserving sage-grouse habitat above livestock grazing where conservation and grazing conflict. Western Watershed Project, the plaintiff in the case represented by Advocates for the West, will now seek remedies to ensure sage-grouse populations and habitat are protected.
“Conserving Greater Sage-Grouse will require changes in how federal agencies manage the land and carry out grazing and energy development,” said Brian Ertz of Western Watersheds Project. “The court’s ruling offers the BLM and Forest Service some important guidance on how to address grazing practices that should be incorporated into the planning process.”