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ONDA respond to BLM’s sage grouse plan

Late last month, Bureau of Land Management officials released their draft management proposals for sage grouse management, with ranchers as well as conservationists having issued respective responses to the issue.

John O’Keeffe, president-elect for the Oregon Cattlemens Association, said a primary concern of ranchers is in the BLM’s “preferred alternative,” which would retire 118,000 acres of active rangeland throughout Oregon.

“It’s important to realize there are people grazing those (acres) that have been grazing two or three generations,” O’Keeffe said.

Other concerns include ranchers with grazing allotments within research natural areas (RNA) who may be forced to reduce herd sizes as a result of the aforementioned grazing reduction in the BLM’s preferred alternative.

O’Keeffe additionally expressed concern for the fate of permittees voluntarily retire their grazing permits.  He feels permits should be made available for another rancher in the event that one individual should elect to retire their permit.

Conservation organization Oregon Natural Desert Association received $8 million in funding during the construction of the Ruby natural gas pipeline, O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe is concerned about the organization’s interest in buying out grazing permittees, and also expressed concern that the support role those funds would play for litigation efforts by ONDA.

Lakeview District BLM lands may potentially see an impact of between 60 and 70,000 acres of grazing area should the ‘preferred alternative’ be implemented, O’Keeffe said.

ONDA’s conservation district, Dan Morse, said in a release by the organization that the BLM’s plan will play a vital role in the sage grouse’s future viability.

“The BLM’s plan for sage grouse in eastern Oregon will be one of the most important factors in whether sage-grouse and their habitat can exist  and thrive for future generations of Oregonians,” said Morse. “ONDA is keenly focused on the need for strong protections for sage-grouse and will be working with our partners and other stakeholders to encourage BLM to adopt the strongest possible conservation measures.”

The BLM’s environmental impact statement includes a total of six management alternatives for the sage-grouse species, which is currently neither threatened nor endangered.

It is currently “warranted but precluded,” and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a 2015 deadline for listing the species as either threatened or endangered.

The 90-day public comment period opened on Nov. 22 and will close on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.

A public meeting will be held in Lakeview on Monday, Jan. 13, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Lakeview Interagency Office, located at 1301 S. G St.  At this meeting, the public will have the opportunity to review maps, discuss the revised RMP with team members and submit written comments on the project.

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