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House bill would get landowners and the state on the same page sooner with sage grouse 

A male sage grouse demonstrates for a female in a grassy area.
Jeannie Stafford

Wyoming landowners could get more of a heads up if their property is going to be affected by sage grouse protection plans if a bill currently moving through the state legislature passes.

The federal government is currently revising protections for the greater sage grouse – a bird that’s long flirted with the Endangered Species List. Wyoming wants to have a say in this new plan. The state proposed some increased protections for the bird this summer in efforts to keep the bird off the endangered list, and it included private land.

Representative Abby Angelos (R-Gillette) told a House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee that some landowners weren’t notified.

“We have a lot of ranchers who, they're not online, they're not on Facebook, they don't hear public comment,” she said. “So they didn't have enough or adequate time – they were finding out through emails, neighbors, and we just want to make sure that they're notified.”

Angelos was referring to adequate time to comment on the recommendations from Wyoming’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT) to the Governor – this has to happen before the proposal can be submitted to the federal government. The recommendations include adding some chunks of land across the state into what’s called the ‘sage grouse core area’ – which limits development, energy production and general disturbance.

This raised concern amongst some private landowners because of the lack of notice that their land could be affected.

“We had a time crunch this year. We tried to address that, we did not do a good job of it,” SGIT Chairman Bob Budd said to the committee, referring to properly notifying landowners. “I'll accept responsibility for that.”

Part of this had to do with the tight time constraints placed on the state by the federal government. The Bureau of Land Management is revising sage grouse protections under court order through an environmental impact statement expected this spring. The time frame for states to respond was tight and left them scrambling to submit their proposals.

So going forward, some lawmakers are hoping to see stricter notification requirements for landowners. This bill would require a written notice mailed to landowners 45 days before a recommendation is made to the governor, and a public comment hearing at least 30 days before the recommendation.

“I guess I'm kind of surprised that this [landowner] notice isn't working the way it should work,” Rep. John Eklund (R-Cheyenne) said in support of strengthening the notification requirements.

The bill is moving through the House of Representatives, so far with unanimous consent.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.

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