Bureau of Land Management issues final decision on sage-grouse planning

The Bureau of Land Management has concluded additional review of its land use plans for Greater sage-grouse habitat in seven states, issuing decisions that find that no further land use planning or environmental analysis is warranted. The decisions affirm the collaborative process begun under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to develop sage-grouse plans that reflect the needs of Western communities and sagebrush-steppe habitat.

The determinations are not new planning decisions. Instead, they are a determination not to amend existing land use plans and thus, are not subject to appeal or protest. They also represent the agency’s response to issues identified in an order issued in October 2019 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, which placed a preliminary injunction on the implementation of 2019 BLM sage-grouse plans in northeastern California, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

States primarily manage wildlife species, and federal agencies like the BLM manage wildlife habitat. The 2019 plans were adopted after months of close coordination and cooperation with state governments in the affected states to better align BLM plans for managing habitat adopted in 2015 with state plans for conserving the species, including state plans for compensatory mitigation.

The 2019 plans received bipartisan support from the governors who sought changes to the earlier plans for their respective states.

The BLM continues to prioritize efforts to conserve Greater sage-grouse by restoring sagebrush habitat. In fiscal year 2020, the BLM invested more than $37 million in treating and restoring sagebrush-steppe habitat on 584,000 acres of public lands.

The BLM has also adopted changes that would increase its ability to respond to the threat of wildfire, disease and habitat loss on public lands in a timely manner and authorize removal of encroaching vegetation from sage-steppe landscapes in need of restoration, enhancement or maintenance. The agency recently established a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act to streamline the review of projects designed to curb the spread of pinyon-juniper woodlands on sagebrush habitat while also reducing wildfire fuel loads, which address a primary threat to Greater sage-grouse habitat as well as diminishing hazards to wildland firefighters and local communities.