Panel weighs in on sage grouse options

A state panel appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to try to head off protections for sage grouse asserts that a course of action preferred by two federal agencies contradicts mandates to manage public lands for multiple use.

The Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, in a Jan. 24 response to the federal government, also says a draft environmental impact statement should address beneficial aspects of livestock grazing and predator control.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under court mandate to decide by 2015 whether greater sage grouse found in 11 western states warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. In Nevada, a listing could curtail activities across 17 million acres of public land.

States including Nevada have been working on their own plans to protect the bird and avoid a listing that officials fear would hinder renewable energy development, mining and recreational activities and threaten rural livelihoods. The biggest threat to sage grouse is loss of sagebrush habitat.

The council’s remarks were a response to the thousands of pages of options contained in a draft environmental impact statement released by the Fish and Wildlife Service late last year. The public comment period ended Jan. 29.

A preferred option identified by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service would, among other things, exclude or restrict new recreational facilities, wind and solar energy development, and mineral development in sage grouse habitat.

“This appears to be regardless of sage grouse population density, consideration of seasonal habitat requirements or importance of habitat to individual populations,” wrote council Chairman J.J. Goicoechea, a veterinarian, rancher and Eureka County commissioner.

“These proposed actions contradict BLM’s and USFS’s multiple-use mandate,” he added.

The council’s response also said more consideration should be paid to predator control, an issue that is essentially discounted in the draft alternatives but considered by ranchers to be a big factor in sage grouse mortality.

“Predator control may be considered a tourniquet that is applied concurrently while habitat restoration or enhancement is in progress,” the response said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly asked for recommendations to “stop the bleeding” of habitat loss and sage grouse population declines.

On grazing, the council called the analysis in the draft environmental impact statement “seriously flawed” because it omits studies suggesting that managed grazing can enhance sagebrush ecosystems and riparian areas to benefit sage grouse.


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