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BLM explains draft sage grouse plan and asks for more public comment

Sage grouse cross the road in Sublette County.
Austin Mansell

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently held a series of public meetings about its new proposed sage grouse management plan. As the bird’s population continues to dwindle across the West, the agency is trying to add protections, all in an attempt to prevent the bird from being listed as an Endangered Species.

The BLM’s sage grouse conservation coordinator, Pat Deibart, gave some context during one of the virtual Zoom meetings.

“Every single state across the range of the species has experienced long term sage grouse declines,” she said.

Right now, sage grouse are managed under plans made in 2015, when Wyoming led the charge in updating its own state management plan that was adopted by the BLM. It includes about 15 million acres of “core area” that limit things like energy development and the Sage Grouse Implementation Team, a formal group of stakeholders that meet regularly to discuss how things are working and provide recommendations to the state about any updates needed.

The BLM’s plan was revised in 2019, along with a handful of other Western state plans, but implementation was put on hold by lawsuits claiming that it favored energy development and put the bird’s habitat at risk.

So, the BLM, with input from Western states like Wyoming, is now taking another stab at updating the plan.

“Sage grouse populations have continued to decline, and recent science shows that we need to once again update our plans to allow decisive action across state boundaries to achieve lasting benefits for sage grouse and sagebrush habitat,” according to a BLM press release.

This spring the BLM released its draft plan through an environmental impact statement. It offers six different alternatives ranging from more development friendly to conservation oriented. The agency chose Alternative 5 as its preferred option, which seeks to strike a balance between conservation and development. It mostly aligns with recommendations made by Wyoming last year, which included adding tens of thousands of acres to its “core area.”

Deibart calmed industry fears that this plan won’t stop development, but it will clarify how sage grouse can be further protected.

“Avoidance first, and then minimization, and then going to compensatory mitigation, if necessary,” she said.

The purpose of the meetings was to explain the plan and answer questions. The agency is now asking for public comment.

“We know [that] we don't know everything. There's land users out there. There's a lot of information out there,” said Quincy Bahr, BLM’s sage grouse project manager.

Public comment on the plan is open until June 13.

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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