Earlier this month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released six final Environmental Impact Statements and proposed Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan Amendments (RMPAs) across the species’ habitat range. The proposed RMPAs were published on December 7, 2018 and have a 30-day protest period before they are finalized. The proposed revisions would result in big changes to the 2015 Sage-Grouse Approved RMPAs (ARMPAs, including affecting the way development is currently prioritized in Sage-Grouse habitats, Sagebrush Focal Areas, compensatory mitigation strategy, livestock grazing, and adaptive management.
A little background
The 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse ARMPAs were prepared by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for federal lands within the Greater Sage-Grouse’s range. These plans provided support for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) subsequent finding that the Greater Sage-Grouse did not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Under the Trump Administration, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3353 “Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States.” The Order required collaboration between states and the federal government with the shared goal of conserving Sage-Grouse without impeding local economic opportunities. As a result, a Department of Interior Review Team was established to provide recommendations including potential amendments to the BLM and USFS land use plans. Zinke followed with a memorandum directing the BLM to immediately begin implementing the Team’s recommendations. In accordance with the recommendations and Secretarial memorandum, six draft RMPAs/Environmental Impact Statements were published on May 4, 2018, and then finalized and proposed as of December 7, 2018.
What are the major changes to the way Sage-Grouse are currently managed?
The Sage-Grouse proposed RMPAs would ultimately ease restrictions on industry development in some Sage-Grouse habitats and provide for new processes for adaptive management, compensatory mitigation, and how BLM updates habitat management areas.
- Perhaps the biggest change in the proposed RMPAs is in the way BLM prioritizes development in Sage-Grouse habitats. The 2015 ARMPAs required the BLM to prioritize development outside of Preliminary Habitat Management Areas (PHMA [i.e. Wyoming Core Areas]) and General Habitat Management Areas (GHMA [i.e. non-core habitat in Wyoming]).Under the proposed RMPAs, the BLM would prioritize development only outside of PHMA, not GHMA.
- The proposed RMPAs would eliminate Sagebrush Focal Areas and cancel their withdrawal from the General Mining Act of 1872, easing restriction in these areas.
- The proposed RMPAs would make noise thresholds/monitoring only applicable within PHMA, and not in GHMA.
- The BLM would also require livestock management activities to be evaluated in PHMA only, and not in GHMA.
In addition to the above changes, the RMPAs would allow the BLM the flexibility to update habitat management areas to be consistent with state designated habitat areas (i.e. Wyoming Core Areas).
Other proposed amendments include:
- The proposed RMPAs clarify that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) does not authorize the BLM to require public land users to implement compensatory mitigation as a condition for using public land.BLM’s compensatory mitigation must be voluntary; therefore, compensatory mitigation will follow state policies, such as Wyoming’s Greater Sage-Grouse Compensatory Mitigation Framework.
- The proposed RMPAs remove requirements of net conservation gain as part of the revisions to compensatory mitigation.
- The Adaptive Management Working Group, a collaborative group consisting of representatives from the BLM, USFS, USFWS, and State of Wyoming, is tasked with providing guidance for agencies with the ability to affect Greater Sage-Grouse populations and/or habitat through their permitting authority, and to determine an appropriate response strategy for when adaptive management triggers are tripped.With these changes, the Group would define a process to review and reverse adaptive management actions once the cause is resolved, such as returning to previous management once objectives have been met.
The path forward for future Sage-Grouse management
The proposed RMPAs add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex system of resource management issues and permitting. Much of Trihydro’s experience comes from the heart of Sage-Grouse country and our Ecological Services team can help navigate through these changes based on regulatory expertise and experience working with the BLM on Sage-Grouse issues.
For questions, contact:
Erik Schmude, Wildlife Scientist
Ecological Services Team