WASHINGTON, June 29, 2016 - The lack of guidance to accompany sage-grouse management plans in 10 Western states is creating uncertainty among ranchers, energy companies and other resource users, Republican senators said at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
The criticism was led by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the subcommittee on public lands, forests and mining.
Since the Interior Department announced last September that it was not listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, “no instructional memoranda have been finalized, no final field guides have been made public, and agency staff on the ground are no closer to implementing the federal plans than they were last September,” Barrasso said.
“In Wyoming, and many of my colleagues’ home states, their ranchers, energy and mineral producers, and construction workers depend on production based on federal lands,” Barrasso said. The grouse, in turn, “depends on the people who depend on the land.”
Barrasso and other GOP senators from Western states – namely, Jim Risch of Idaho, Mike Lee of Utah and Steve Daines of Montana – also criticized the federal government in general, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in particular, for adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach to land management planning and for failing to properly take into account views of stakeholders such as ranchers.
Sage-grouse habitat exists on about 165 million acres in 11 Western states. The conservation strategy covers about 67 million acres in 10 of those states, about half of which is managed by BLM.
The featured government witness was Jim Lyons, Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for lands and minerals. He said that guidance has been delayed because BLM wanted to do more outreach and gain more feedback from affected land owners. Lyons also insisted that far from being uniform, the sage-grouse conservation plans are tailored as much as possible to local conditions.
After the hearing, he said he expected the implementation guidance to be issued within a month.
The subcommittee also heard from Brenda Richards, a rancher from Owyhee County, Idaho, and the president of the Public Lands Council, who said the conservation plans have a “misplaced focus on reduced grazing footprint rather than proper application of grazing as a tool, and (a) disregard for ongoing local management.”
Lyons, however, said the government is trying to work with ranchers across the bird’s habitat. In his testimony, he noted that through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative, about 1,100 ranches are conserving 4.4 million acres of sage-grouse habitat.
Asked by Risch whether there would be a requirement that all stubble in sage-grouse leks – the areas where the birds perform their spring mating rituals – be at least seven inches high, Lyons said no.
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