By Sarah Reijonen
For the GPAA
In late September Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the sage grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, but before mining, energy developers and ranchers could breathe a sigh of relief, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management submitted its own plan to protect the sage grouse—even though it did not warrant an ESA listing.
The Forest Service and BLM’s Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments for the Great Basin Region would withdraw 10 million acres of land from future mining claims, prohibit oil and gas drilling near the bird’s breeding grounds, and would impose new reviews on livestock grazing permits, according to a Oct. 12 article in the Elko Daily Free Press.
The plan comes with a temporary closure of the land listed, as well as a 90-day comment period, which ends December 23.
The 10 million-plus acres earmarked for withdrawal cover Idaho, Montana, Nevada Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, and the BLM has already posted “off limits” signs on a quarter-million acres, according to a news release from Natural Gas Intelligence.
According to the release, “federal agencies in Utah have temporarily closed more than 233,000 acres of public and national forest lands for up to two years while they determine if the lands’ importance to the ground-based bird habitat is such that they should be made off limits for a longer period.”
In 2011, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked 10 Western states, including the ones now facing withdrawal, to create state-based conservation plans for the sage grouse. The states complied, in an effort to head off a sage grouse listing, but to no avail, as the feds have decided to go ahead with their plans anyhow.
“Under the federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Interior Secretary can withdraw the lands for a maximum of 20 years, and that can be extended,” according to the Natural Gas Intelligence news release.
In response to the federal plan, Nevada and Idaho, as well as Western Exploration and Quantum Minerals, have filed suit against the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service and various federal officials.
“We didn’t want an ESA listing, but in many ways these administrative rules are worse,” stated Idaho Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter in a Sept. 25 press release. “This complaint is an unfortunate but necessary step to protect the rights of Idaho citizens to participate in public land decisions that will impact their communities, their economy and their lives. Our people deserve to be involved in development of critical land-use plans that will responsibly address the most serious threats to Idaho’s sage-grouse population—wildfires and such invasive species as cheat grass that are fueling them.”
According to the lawsuit filed by Elko and Eureka counties in Nevada, Elko County alone expects the withdrawal to cost approximately $31 million annually in agriculture, mining and energy development revenue. According to the Elko Daily Free Press article, 74 percent of Elko County is federally managed land and of that, nearly 80 percent is considered some varying degree of sage grouse habitat by the Forest Service and BLM’s resource management plan.
GET INVOLVED: Oppose the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments for the Great Basin Region: When submitting comments, please clearly indicate that comments are in regard to the withdrawal application. Comments must be submitted by Dec. 23, 2015.
ADDRESSES: Written comments should be sent to the BLM Director, 1849 C Street NW., (WO–200), Washington, DC 20240 or electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Mark A. Mackiewicz, PMP, Senior National Project Manager BLM. Telephone: (435) 636–3616. Email: email@example.com.
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article as featured in the December-January edition of the Pick & Shovel Gazette.