DENVER – The American public, along with conservation and sporting organizations, submitted yet another round of comments today on six Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in an effort to overturn bipartisan science-based plans approved in 2015 to protect habitat of the imperiled Greater Sage-Grouse. As the primary land manager for where sage-grouse are found, the BLM’s actions will play a major role in determining the bird’s future.
The BLM is reviewing how they manage for sage-grouse habitat on public lands in response to an order issued by the U.S. District Court for Idaho that placed a preliminary injunction suspending implementation of sage-grouse plans the BLM adopted in March 2019.
These proposed changes comes while the federal administration proceeds with lease sales in grouse habitat on public lands to oil and gas companies, rushes reviews of regulatory rollbacks, and undermines public review during a global pandemic and the resulting national crisis. Along with formal comments from the organization’s experts:
More than 145,000 individuals submitted comments calling on the BLM not to weaken protections for sage-grouse, clearly highlighting how important this issue is to the American public.
A group of 22 scientists and policy experts, who collectively have more than 630 years of experience studying sage-grouse and sagebrush habitats, have submitted their own letter in which they note the BLM’s failure to reflect the reality of declining sage-grouse populations in every state, continued habitat loss, and lack of scientific justification for the majority of the management decisions being proposed by the BLM.
Below are quotes from organizations that have been actively engaged in BLM’s on-going sagebrush habitat management efforts:
“The administration is rushing through yet another effort to reduce protections for our shared public lands, and it’s the sage-grouse’s turn, again” said Nada Culver, vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel for the National Audubon Society.“There has been no real consideration of extensive habitat loss, population declines, or the lack of mitigation for habitat destruction, just a continued commitment to relax important safeguards for sagebrush habitat management that supports grouse and hundreds of other species.”
“Management of our nation’s public lands should be based on science and take the long-term needs of communities into consideration, not the short-term political gains of a few,” said Brian Rutledge, director of Audubon’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Initiative.“Proceeding based on what DC politicians think is best, as the BLM appears to be doing, will harm Greater Sage-Grouse habitat and is inconsistent with accepted science. An honest analysis would lead to a very different conclusion.”
“Even during a pandemic, thousands of Americans have spoken up to oppose the administration’s latest efforts to dismantle common sense sage-grouse protections,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Sage-grouse numbers are in decline and the health of 350 other species in sagebrush country is at stake. It’s time for the federal government to stop undermining conservation and return to the comprehensive 2015 management plans that were forged by a bipartisan group of western governors, ranchers, industry representatives and conservationists.”
“President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt are perfectly content rushing through more rollbacks to public land and wildlife protections for extractive industries at a time when the nation and people are crippled with a generational pandemic. Pushing these corporate favors through while ignoring court orders and calls by state and local officials for a pause during this crisis is the definition of corruption,” said Western Values Project director Jayson O’Neill. “Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s continued bidding for his former big oil and gas clients will lead the iconic sage-grouse and many of the 350 other species in America’s remaining and dwindling western sagebrush sea toward the next prairie fire of extinction at a time when resourceful resource management and preservation of our public lands and wildlife should be preeminent.”
Statewide organizations working to protect Greater Sage-Grouse share these concerns:
“We ask BLM to reconsider its approach in the new draft because it still has not conducted a real impacts analysis of the changes it proposed in 2019 to upend the workable community driven-plan to protect the grouse adopted in 2015,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of Colorado Wildlife Federation.
“It is deeply disturbing that the BLM decided to launch the effort to toss the 2015 plans without proper and honest consideration of the consequences to the bird, its habitat, and to the people who are most directly affected by this ill-conceived attack” said Dan Heilig, Senior Conservation Advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “The BLM used a sledge hammer to bludgeon the 2015 plans when in reality all that was required was a scapal to address a few remaining issues identified by stakeholders” Heilig said. “The BLM’s top down effort has been a tremendous waste of time, resources and taxpayer dollars and has eroded the goodwill and sense of community that allowed the 2015 plans to be enacted.” “Unfortunately, instead of protecting grouse, the 2019 plans bring us one step closer to the need for a listing decision under the ESA.”
“It is clear that the Bureau of Land Management did not consider the scientific data showing sharp declines in sage grouse populations over the past 3 years when it issued its revised sage grouse management plans. It’s time to return to the original plans developed by a broad coalition of stakeholders in 2015 and do what’s best for the survival of the bird and the 350 other species that depend on the sagebrush habitat,” said Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation.
This article was first published by Audubon on 21 May 2020. Lead Image Source: Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon
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