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Department of Interior Issues Report on Sage-Grouse

On August 4, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued its report in response to Secretarial Order 3353, “Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation and Cooperation with Western States.” Under the Secretarial Order, the Department appointed an interagency review team to analyze the changes to resources management plans in 2015. Many of the 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plans (2015 Plans) conflicted with established state management plans for the Greater Sage-Grouse. The Interagency Review Team was tasked with reviewing state management plans with state-level counterparts, examining threats to the Sage-Grouse, such as wildfire and invasive species, and gathering updated data and science.

Since the 2015 Plans were finalized, county governments have faced challenges delivering basic public services. For example, in the small community of Baker, in White Pine County, Nevada, regulatory delays for a water tank replacement project located on a Bureau of Land Management issued right-of-way have contributed to a public health and safety emergency. The tank must be replaced to prevent potential contamination of the town’s water supply and to ensure sufficient capacity for fire-fighters. However, new land use restrictions placed on the site by the Greater Sage-Grouse land management plan delayed the tank’s replacement due to the timing of the grouse’s breeding season, even though the project site itself is a weed infested area that is not even marginal grouse habitat. 

The goal of the Secretarial Order was to develop a plan to ease implementation and improve cooperation between the 2015 Plans and existing or developing state conservation plans. Memorandums of understanding with states and other stakeholders are one potential tool that could be used to ensure greater consistency in the implementation of the 2015 plans. The Report recommends the federal government and states ensure greater consistency for requirements for energy companies to acquire waivers for energy development within sagebrush focal areas, including required restorative actions. The Department may also issue a new mitigation standard, which could repeal the “net conservation gain” standard, and replace it with a new standard, such as “no net loss.” The Report endorses greater field staff training and the development of collaborative approaches to grazing permitting that can accomplish the economic goals of ranchers while also contributing to species conservation.

Finally, the threats of wildland fire and invasive species to the Sage-Grouse habitat are considered. The Report mentions equipping state and local fire departments with surplus equipment as one strategy for preventing habitat destruction. Expedited use of land management activities, including targeted grazing and herbicide use, are also a part of the recommended strategy for dealing with invasive species in sagebrush focal areas.

Counties strongly advocate for greater flexibility and consultation in implementation of species conservation plans. Counties also urge the federal government to defer to state and local land management plans when adopting any federal land use plan amendments, pursuant to the consistency and coordination requirements under federal law.

You can read the August 4 report here.

About Jonathan Shuffield (Full Bio)

Associate Legislative Director – Public Lands and Liaison to the Western Interstate Region

Jonathan Shuffield serves as NACo’s Associate Legislative Director for Public Lands and Liaison to the Western Interstate Region, lobbying Congress on public lands issues including Payments In Lieu of Taxes, Secure Rural Schools, land management and endangered species.