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Proposed Expansion of Sage Grouse Protections on BLM-Managed Public Lands

| Rose Winn, Cal4wheel Natural Resources Consultant | Access Issues

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed expansion of protected habitat and conservation management for the Greater Sage Grouse. BLM asserts that the Sage Grouse is in sharp decline, populations once in the millions now number fewer than 800,000 due to habitat loss, climate change effects, drought, wildfires and the spread of invasive species. There has been a long debate over the Sage Grouse with environmental advocates pushing to have the species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In order to prevent an endangered species listing, the BLM developed a Sage Grouse Land Use Plan in 2015. The Sage Grouse still has not been listed to date, with official species status reports indicating that a listing is not warranted. Without an ESA listing, the BLM is not required to treat Sage Grouse and its habitat as endangered or threatened, and should not be managing land as such. The Sage Grouse Land Use Plan was amended in 2019, and the BLM is now proposing additional amendments.

The new proposed amendments will affect the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. It includes 77 resource management plans across these states, covering 69 million acres. In California and Nevada, the amended plan will impact 19 to 22 million acres of BLM-managed public land, most of which is located in the Northeastern side of the state between Susanville and Alturas (see map below). One major concern is the amended conservation plan would designate millions of acres as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). ACEC’s are typically managed as if they are wilderness – they are historically restrictive, have closed roads, and shut down access for all types of users.

The pressures and effects on the Sage Grouse vary from state to state. The BLM should not be creating a broad land use plan covering 10 different states that all feature unique terrain, multiple-uses of public land, community demographics, and socioeconomics. A plan this restrictive in nature will affect users who are not proven to have a significant negative impact on the species. A one-size-fits-all approach will not be beneficial to the species, and, will harm effective multiple-use public land management practices. Although studies have shown a decrease in Sage Grouse population, research shows that this is due in part to wildfires and urbanization. There is a notable lack of evidence to indicate that OHV recreation, outdoor recreation, and other popular forms of multiple-use interest in BLM managed lands have created negative impact on Sage Grouse. The Sage Grouse is being used as a pawn in a broader plan to give the federal government more control of our public lands even when the species population volume and health does not warrant an ESA listing.

Public comments will be accepted through June 13, 2024.

Additionally, the BLM will host a virtual public meeting on Thursday, April 25 at 5pm PT. Register to attend:

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