Cattlemen, developers take on federal sage-grouse management plans
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WASHINGTON, June 29, 2015 - A coalition of Western counties and organizations, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), filed formal protests Monday against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Geologic Survey for using what the groups call “faulty information” in the development of greater sage-grouse conservation management plans.
The coalition claims that the BLM and U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) recently released environmental impact statements (EISs) - which will be used to finalize 14 conservation management plans for the bird - unfairly characterize livestock grazing as a threat to greater sage-grouse habitat. Mining groups and oil and gas drillers are also part of the coalition.
According to BLM and USFS, the federal plans will “layer” land use restrictions across 10 of the 11 Western states within the bird's 184 million acre range, limiting, and in some cases prohibiting, surface disturbances such as livestock grazing to protect critical sagebrush habitat..
The groups are calling for BLM and USFS to remove the “inflexible and arbitrary” buffer zones for grazing and stubble height requirements outlined in the EISs from their final management plans “before ranchers are forced out of business.”
“Ranchers and those closest to the land are far better equipped to manage resources than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” Brenda Richards, the president of the Public Lands Council, which also signed the complaints, said in a release. “The agencies are using faulty logic to justify a top-down approach to sage-grouse management, where states are much better suited, with their expertise as wildlife managers, to protect the sage-grouse.”
NCBA and PLC filed comments on the draft EISs back in 2014 and submitted formal protests in nine Western states, claiming similar inaccuracies in the data federal agencies were using.
“Neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nor the BLM have found evidence that livestock grazing and current range management pose a threat to sage-grouse habitat or populations,” NCBA said in a release. “In fact, there are numerous studies showing the positive impact grazing has on sage-grouse habitat.”
Immediately after the environmental impact statements were released in late May, some conservation and sportsmen's groups came out in support of the proposed plans and expressed high hopes for the final versions.
Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of FWS, said during a press conference that “the approaches the BLM plans prescribe or are consistent with, we think, are the right thing to do for conserving sage-grouse and sagebrush habitat.”
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the agencies' plans would help states “develop a system that conserves a species, but also does it in such a way that allows for other uses to move forward.”
FWS, the agency responsible for listing species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, estimates the grouse's population has declined 30 percent in the last three decades and is now somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000. The service will make a decision whether to list the greater sage-grouse by Sept. 30.
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