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BLM begins re-assessment of sage-grouse plans

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has canceled its Sagebrush Focal Area withdrawal application and the Department of Interior’s proposed withdrawal of 10 million acres of federal lands from location and entry under the mining law in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat in six western states.

BLM also terminated the associated environmental analysis process.

The bureau decided the withdrawal was “unreasonable” in light of data it claims showed mining affected less than .1 percent of sage-grouse-occupied range.

BLM also used a Nevada U.S. District Court ruling to announce the beginning of a scoping process to solicit public comments on sage-grouse land management issues that could warrant land use plan amendments.

Plans, adopted in 2014 and 2015 provide guidance and direction for public lands in 10 western states including Idaho, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Utah, and Montana.

“The BLM is committed to being a good neighbor and cooperating with its partners at all levels of government, including states, as well as tribal leaders, industry and conservation groups, ranchers, and other stakeholders throughout the amendment process,” said BLM Acting Director Mike Nedd. “During this process, we are particularly interested in hearing from the many governors whose states put hard work and time into collaborative efforts to develop the existing plans. We welcome their input.”

Addressing the mining land decision, Nedd said, “The proposal to withdraw 10 million acres to prevent 10,000 from potential mineral development was a complete overreach. Secretary Zinke has said from the beginning that by working closely with the states, who are on the front lines and a valued partner in protecting the health of these lands, we can be successful in conserving greater sage-grouse habitat without stifling economic development and job growth. And that’s what we intend to do–protect important habitat while also being a good neighbor to states and local communities.”

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson called the announcement welcome news in Idaho. “Secretary Zinke and his team should be applauded for taking this important step which is needed to restore the collaborative process between federal and state partners and to realign the federal plans in Idaho with that of the states. I look forward to working with Governor Otter to refocus these plans on their original intent – which is conserving species through common-sense measures that work for Idaho’s landscape.”

The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ruled in March 2017 that the BLM failed to adequately evaluate the designation of Sagebrush Focal Areas in its 2015 greater sage-grouse plan amendment for Nevada. In order to comply with the court’s order and to address issues raised by various interested parties, and to consider recommendations in the August 4, 2017 report prepared by the Department of the Interior’s Greater Sage-Grouse Review Team in Response to Secretary’s Order 3353 (SO 3353), the BLM intends to consider amending these plans.

The BLM will soon publish a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to announce the beginning of a scoping process to solicit public comments on greater sage-grouse land management issues that could warrant land use plan amendments.

The BLM also wants to receive input on whether that planning effort should occur through state-by-state amendment processes.

The notice has been sent to the Federal Register and is awaiting publication. Publication of the notice initiates a process that could eventually result in some changes, significant changes or no changes at all.

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