Another milestone has been passed on the road to sage-grouse management.
On July 31, the Forest Service announced it had prepared the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Greater Sage-Grouse Proposed Lands Management Plan Amendments (LMPA) and five Draft Records of Decision (RODs) for management of sage-grouse in National Forests in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.
“The Forest Service continues to promote our multiple-use mission while ensuring conservation of greater sage-grouse habitat,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the agency’s announcement of the new documents.
“We are sharing the stewardship of the lands with Western state governors—their extensive participation throughout this process was the key to landscape-scale conservation that aligns our policies and practices across local, state, and federal jurisdictions.”
According to the Forest Service’s summary of the final EIS and draft RODs, the plans “allow for greater flexibility and local control of conservation and management actions related to sage-grouse, ensuring that we can both conserve the habitat and enable grazers to maintain their livelihood.” It additionally details that the plans set standards to be met rather than restrictions to be enforced.
“The 2019 plans maintain the goal of preventing any net loss to critical sage-grouse habitat, but no longer require the unreasonable standard that every action increase conservation. This enables local stakeholders to determine what strategies to implement where and how while still conserving sage-grouse habitat.”
The final EIS and draft RODs from the Forest Service follow similar actions from the BLM. The BLM announced its final EIS related to the LMPAs back in December 2018 and RODs in March. The main changes in the BLM RODs were aimed at increasing flexibility for land managers with a more outcome-based focus.
Lawsuits immediately followed. Environmental groups, including Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, claimed the changes in the RODs represented a gutting of sage-grouse protections.
The actual Forest Service EIS and ROD documents were not available as of press time. The Federal Register announcement noted the full documents would be available Friday, Aug. 2. Comments will be accepted from the public for 60 days following their availability. Look for more information in next week’s paper. — WLJ