A meeting held on Monday, Jan. 13, at the Lakeview Interagency Office drew in a considerable crowd of stakeholders seeking answers related to the BLM’s sage grouse-related environmental impact statement (EIS).
The EIS, released by the BLM last November, relates to an amendment to the agency’s 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) and addresses sage grouse habitat management strategies.
As a species currently “warranted but precluded” from listing by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Species as a threatened or endangered species, the USFWS agency’s decision-making deadline on whether or not to list the species is September 2015.
“This plan is a way for us to be proactive rather than reactive,” said Lakeview BLM District Mgr. E. Lynn Burkett.
The EIS contains multiple alternative strategies for sage grouse habitat management, which served as the predominant focus of an extensive question-and-answer session. Alternatives range from ‘A,’ which calls for no new action and continuation of existing management strategies, while the other options integrate a number of management activities.
The EIS is currently in the public comment phase, with a deadline of Feb. 20 for written comments on the matter.
Agency officials facilitating the meeting emphasized the need for substantive written comment submissions, noting that the evening’s oral testimony would not be recorded.
The BLM’s recommended preferred alternative generated questions related to grazing permit holders and required standards on their respective allotments.
Perhaps the running theme of the evening pertained to the impact of predators on sage grouse population numbers versus that of grazing. Many of those in attendance shared anecdotal testimony on the impact of predatory birds, such as ravens, on the sage grouse population, and the majority of the questions submitted to the agency representatives present pertained to this topic.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Craig Foster as well as Asst. Field Mgr. Todd Forbes fielded a number of questions related to these discussions.
Several of those in attendance felt there was an imbalance in effective management by focusing on habitat with no predator control measures.
Suther said that predation is an issue acknowledged within the plan, but less of an issue than other elements, such as grazing.
One guest asked why the BLM would consider an alternative potentially economically devastating to area communities if the population numbers fall within the variability range.
The latter refers to references of current numbers estimated around 27,000, with desired population numbers of 30,000.
Suther said many years of data indicate an overall decline in population, but the goal is to avoid a listing of the species.
“One of the hopes is this will lead to a decision (by USFWS) for the bird not to be listed,” she said.
BLM economist and social scientist Stewart Allen said that each of the strategy alternatives examine the economic impacts of implementation. Economic impacts of the alternatives are not broken out county by county, he said.