Supervisors adopts cooperating status for sage-grouse studies
“This sage-grouse is like the spotted owl was to the forest,” Lassen County District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman said, “and that’s what we have to be mindful of.”
In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the Greater sage-grouse warranted listing under the Endangered Species Act, but it was precluded from taking action due to higher listing priorities. A decision on the listing is expected by September 2014.
The county adopted coordination status with federal and state agencies in February 2011, and Chapman said the BLM and the county have a long history of cooperation.
Despite concerns from several citizens who said they preferred coordination status over cooperating status, Chapman and District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson both said the county could enjoy the benefits of both at the same time.
Hanson said he asked to have the item put on the agenda — a letter to James Kenne, the state’s BLM director, requesting the federal agency grant the county cooperating agency status.
According to the county’s letter, “The issue of Greater sage-grouse habitat is a significant issue for economic, recreational and business interests in Lassen County and is of primary concern to the Lassen County Board of Supervisors.
“The Board of Supervisors hereby requests cooperating agency status as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process regarding the expansion of protected habitat for the Greater sage-grouse.”
According to Don Amentrout, a retired wildife biologist and chair of the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission, there are approximately 850,000 acres of Greater sage-grouse habitat within the Eagle Lake Field Office area.
The BLM has determined Lassen County is within the Greater sage-grouse habitat that will be considered in a comprehensive planning effort to incorporate conservation measures into land use plans across the western United States. The BLM invited the county to participate in the planning process.
“Cooperating and coordination can be done simultaneously,” Hanson said. “If I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s the approach Modoc County has already taken. We’ve had a good working relationship with BLM here locally.”
A threatened or endangered species listing for the Greater sage-grouse as a threatened or endanger species could have far-ranging land use consequences in Lassen County.
“This has the potential to be an extraordinarily important issue for Lassen County,” Hanson said, “and I think it would behoove us to go ahead and request cooperating agency status and to also go ahead with the coordination as well.”
Chapman called having both cooperating and coordinating status a “dual process” and said, “I think we should avail of every avenue we have available to tell them what we want.”
District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick said the county invoked coordination status and created the Lassen County Coordination Committee (LCCC) last year, and the committee preferred coordination status over cooperation status.
Hanson said invoking both would be “a more effective approach.”
District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle, who serves on the coordination committee, said he’s been told the county should avoid cooperating status at all times.
“What I got out of it (the last LCCC meeting) was that you don’t want anything to do with cooperating, you strictly want to be coordinating, so now I’m a little bit confused.”
Hanson said cooperating status meant the county could sit down with BLM and the federal agency can recognize the county’s general plan and make decisions based upon the plan and the local culture and customs. He acknowledged coordination did many of the same things.
Chapman read a portion of a letter from Fred Kelly Grant, an expert in the relationship between counties and other government agencies.
“What the double relationship brings” Chapman said, “is when the agency deals with the county at the planning table, the agency knows that it might as well listen, hear and respond because ultimately it’s going to have to come to terms with the county through the consistency portion of coordination.”
Chapman said Grant had written counties that invoked cooperating status were not as effective as those that invoked coordination status.
“I realize this may not be what our coordination committee and other committees appreciate,” Chapman said, “but this is from 40 years of watching the process … there has always been this close collaboration which is the product of the cooperative process and the coordination process. Ultimately in the end if we have to use the heavy hammer of coordination to have a seat at the table and have input, they’re going to have to deal with us.”
According to Trademark America’s website, coordination brings power to local government. Trademark America is a nonprofit organization that supports coordination status.
“Coordination is a statutory process defined in the Federal Land Policy Management Act,” the website reports. “It provides an effective tool that empowers local government entities to require state and federal agencies to enter a government-to-government relationship ahead of public notice for the development of regulatory frameworks that are consistent with local policies.”
According to the BLM’s website, “The cooperating agency role derives from the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), which calls on federal, state, and local governments to cooperate with the goal of achieving ‘productive harmony’ between humans and their environment. The Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations implementing NEPA allows federal agencies (as lead agencies) to invite tribal, state, and local governments, as well as other federal agencies, to serve as cooperating agencies in the preparation of environmental impact statements.”
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