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Wyoming Governor, BLM Focus on Core Sage Grouse Habitat

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal says he's encouraged that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed with a "core area" strategy proposed by the Governor's Sage Grouse Implementation Team and pledged to work with the team in developing BLM's efforts to preserve critical sage grouse habitat in the state while continuing to process oil and gas drilling permits.

The governor last week released a letter he had received from BLM's Wyoming office, saying the federal agency would base its management strategy on preserving the core sage grouse habitat areas as outlined by the governor's team last March. "This allows us to preserve sufficient sage grouse habitat, secure adequate decision space for our future [Resource Management Plan] modification, and begin processing permits no later than mid-July." Focusing on the core areas in the short term will preserve BLM's options in determining its long-term plan, the agency said.

The federal agency corrected "rumors" that suggest it is not processing drilling permits and has imposed a moratorium. "This is incorrect; the BLM is processing drilling permits."

"As the state completes its mapping and ground-truthing effort this fall, and as we meet with industry to discuss their interim proposals for development, we are quite interested in working with the state" and the implementation team "to ensure that our future management of surface disturbing activities and sage grouse is sound."

The BLM said its Buffalo, WY, field office began meeting with companies and other interested parties in early June to discuss short-term management strategies for oil and gas development while the longer-term effort is ongoing. Companies have been asked to submit development proposals by the end of June, which would give BLM two weeks "to analyze these proposals against the core area maps and strategy, with the input of the implementation team and others. We should have a good understanding of our strategy by mid-July -- allowing us ample opportunity to process permits for this drilling season and protect key sage grouse populations."

The BLM is in the information-gathering stage, said spokesperson Teresa Howes. The agency has its own draft outline of habitat areas, which it will incorporate with information gathered by the state on sage grouse population.

The core area strategy advanced earlier this year by the governor's team, a group including state and federal land and wildlife management officials, along with representatives of environmental conservation groups and oil and gas producers, identified a potential 200,000-400,000 acres of core area habitat for sage grouse in Wyoming.

The team's strategy calls for maintaining habitats and viable populations of sage grouse in areas where they are most abundant, including areas home to no less than two-thirds of the sage grouse in Wyoming. The group estimated that there will be approximately 40 core population areas of different sizes and noted that the area boundaries will be flexible to accommodate changing conditions.

The state team recommended that development within core population areas should occur only when it can be shown that the development will have no negative effects on sage grouse. It also called for a nonregulatory approach as much as possible. "Incentives to defer, reduce or preclude development of all types in Core Population Areas will be necessary, but should follow a controlled surface use framework, rather than a no surface occupancy approach," the governor's team said.

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