A draft plan for managing sage grouse in five central-Montana counties to try to ensure the birds aren’t listed as a threatened or endangered species has been completed.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Lewistown Field Office on Friday issued its Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement for Petroleum, Fergus, Judith Basin, Chouteau and Meagher counties. The plan is open to public comments for 90 days and only pertains to BLM lands.
“This RMPA/EIS will provide future management direction to maintain or increase greater sage grouse abundance and distribution by conserving, enhancing or restoring sagebrush ecosystems on which the population depends,” said Geoff Beyersdorf, the Lewistown Field Office manager, in a press release.
The plan notes that BLM property in the five counties contains about 233,000 acres of core sage grouse habitat along with another 112,000 acres of other areas used seasonally or year-round by the large prairie birds.
BLM’s preferred alternative in the plan, Alternative D, foresees no changes to the amount of acreage open to grazing and anticipates no new oil-and-gas drilling permits for the next decade “so impacts from fluid minerals are unlikely to affect (greater sage grouse) populations.”
WildEarth Guardians staff member Erik Molvar denounced BLM’s plan in a prepared statement.
“The agency’s proposed plan identifies priority areas for sage grouse, then protects industries in these key habitats rather than sage grouse,” he said. “While other plans elsewhere in the sage grouse range apply measurable standards that can improve conditions for sage grouse, reliable standards are absent from the proposed Lewistown plan.”
The BLM’s land-use planning measures must be completed by the end of 2014 to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service time to evaluate them before the agency must make a court-ordered, final listing decision in 2015.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined that the greater sage grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but that listing the species was precluded by the need to address other species first.
The draft EIS is one of more than a dozen coordinated environmental documents developed to provide a consistent approach to sustaining the species and its habitat across the West.
Comments on the plan must be received by Feb. 6 and can be submitted by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org, faxing: 406- 538-1904, or mailing: BLM - Greater Sage-Grouse EIS, 920 Northeast Main St., Lewistown, MT 59457.