Western legislators address Greater Sage-grouse plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet led six other Western senators in sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging him to extend the comment period for changes to the Greater Sage-grouse conservation plans.

The Trump administration published a Notice of Intent to amend Greater Sage-grouse conservation plans with a 45 day comment period closing on November 27. The existing conservation plans were developed over many years through a robust process with public comments and meetings. The senators wrote a letter to Secretary Zinke requesting he extend the comment period by at least 45 days.

“Given the importance and complexity of the proposed rule, and the intersection with BLM’s resource management plans, it is essential that all stakeholders have sufficient opportunity to prepare and provide feedback,” the senators wrote. 

In the letter, the senators noted that any change to the land use plans will affect stakeholders across 11 Western states. They emphasized that in addition to keeping the Greater Sage-grouse off of the Endangered Species list, the original plans protected habitat for other species and provided certainty for landowners and producers.

“Westerners spent years working on state and federal plans to improve the management of public lands, to address the threat of wildland fire to sagebrush habitat, and to provide incentives for landowner and livestock producers to conserve sage grouse habitat,” the senators wrote. “Western governors continue to stress that a complete overhaul of the sage grouse conservation plans are not needed and have requested to be involved in any proposed changes.”

Tipton weighs in on Sage Grouse management plans 

During a Committee on Natural Resources hearing entitled Empowering State Based Management Solutions for Greater Sage Grouse Recovery, Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-03) questioned three expert witnesses about the success of Western sage grouse management plans and emphasized the need for continued coordination between federal, state and local partners.

Under the Obama Administration in 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued Resource Plan Management Amendments (RMPAs) to 98 sage grouse management plans across 10 Western states. The amendments were met with opposition from several Western states that cited concerns about BLM’s one-size-fits-all approach that fails to take into account local conditions.

In June 2017, Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a Secretarial Order creating a sage grouse review team, and directed the team to reevaluate the 2015 RMPAs and work closely with the states to find solutions that best fit local habitat conditions. In September 2017, Zinke issued a formal notice of intent to reexamine the Obama Administration’s RMPAs.

In his opening statement before the committee, Tipton discussed Colorado’s unique topography and the BLM’s disregard for state-specific challenges in its 2015 RMPAs.

During the hearing, Tipton asked the witnesses whether they felt state fish and wildlife departments and local county officials were the most knowledgeable about their state sage grouse populations and habitats. Each witness testified that local departments and officials were better informed about their state’s unique needs and that there was a drastic need for local input when making conservation decisions.

Of the hearing, Congressman Tipton said, “I’m glad to have had the chance to hear from experts on this issue. Their testimonies solidified my belief that the BLM’s one-size-fits-all plan is not the correct approach, and that it is high time we allow our state and local groups to coordinate and find a solution that works for Colorado.”

Caption: Greater Sage-grouse conservation plans have a 45 day comment period closing on November 27. Courtesy photo