Conservation districts weigh in on plan to assist sage grouse

RBC I The White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts staff attended the BLM’s Stakeholder Workshop titled “The Next Steppe: Implementing for the Future,” in Grand Junction on April 19, when several Interior Department staff members from Washington D.C., and Colorado BLM Director Ruth Welch addressed the group.

These officials expressed their desire to hear the stakeholders’ questions, concerns and input on the draft policies that will guide the implementation of the plan. The policies were not available for review during the meeting.
Breakouts of the meeting included listening sessions in smaller groups and information sessions on Adaptive Management, Grazing, Mitigation, Oil and Gas Prioritization and Surface Disturbance.
During the listening sessions and the general session, the DOI/BLM staff heard frustration from the stakeholders regarding the changes in the “Colorado Plan.” A multitude of stakeholders worked on the state plan for two years to reach compromise we could all live with and the plan came back from Washington, D.C., with “consistency” aspects.
After hearing all the frustrations, Deputy Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management Jim Lyons assured the group that this was not a top down plan. He had worked with each of the state BLM directors and stakeholders to finalize the plans.
We were pleased to hear that “well-managed livestock grazing is compatible with Greater Sage Grouse (GRSG) conservation.” However, there will be changes in prioritization and management of grazing permits.
In regard to processing permits, monitoring, field checks, thresholds and responses, Priority Habitat Management Areas (PHMA) will generally be the highest priority, and additional criteria may be included. Thresholds and responses will be incorporated into grazing permits/leases and GRSG habitat objectives will be tailored to local conditions.
The BLM has committed to continue working with stakeholders during the permit renewal process and recognize collaboration with permittees is key to successful grazing management and GRSG conservation.
Key message from the disturbance breakout were the primary strategy in the plan is to limit disturbance in PHMA through the anthropogenic disturbance cap of 3 percent. The percentage will be reported on a Biologically Significant Unit (BSU) such as the Parachute/Piceance/Roan (PPR) and the Meeker/White River populations, but authorizations will be limited at the project scale.
Anthropogenic includes things such as oil and gas development, coal mines, wind towers, mining, roads, vertical structures, other developed rights of ways, etc. There is always a question regarding how private land will be considered within the BLM’s disturbance cap.
Again, during this meeting they represented that private land disturbance will only be considered if there is a federal nexus such as a power line going through private land from public land.
White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ Executive Director Callie Hendrickson’s, final request of the BLM staff was, “We ask that while you are drafting the policies to implement this plan, you recognize and consider all the other current regulations and stipulations that the public land users must already adhere to. They have to operate within so many other federal, state, and local regulations it is nearly impossible to function. The sage grouse regulations are piled on top of all the others.”