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Utah Coalition Urges State/Local 'Balance' in Feds' Sage Grouse Rules

A 21-member coalition based in Utah sent a letter to federal government authorities Monday urging that state and local concerns be adopted to put more of a balance in proposed new rules to protect the sage grouse, according to one of the coalition members, Western Energy Alliance (WEA).

In a letter to the Utah director of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operations and regional offices of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Utah Public Lands Multiple Use Coalition expressed "concerns" about the current state of the federal agencies' "2013 Utah Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan Amendments" and a related draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).

"[We] are seriously concerned about many facets of the [amendments]/DEIS that will adversely affect our respective constituencies," wrote coalition Chairman Randy Parker on behalf of the 21 organizations in Utah and Wyoming. Parker said the coalition considers the BLM/USFS documents "fundamentally flawed." They urged that Utah's state plan directed at the sage grouse be used as a preferred alternative.

"The one-size-fits-all federal approach to protecting sage grouse ignores local conditions and discourages more effective local and state conservation efforts," said Lowell Braxton, WEA's Utah representative. "Millions of dollars have been invested by the state and local communities to develop and implement robust conservation plans from the bottom up with input from diverse stakeholders."

In the coalition's seven-page letter, Parker listed six areas that he said make the federal agencies' proposals unworkable, including not adequately incorporating the sage grouse plan developed cooperatively by Utah and Wyoming, and relying too heavily on the BLM National Technical Team's report and another report from the Fish and Wildlife Service that don't meet "basic standards of scientific integrity and objectivity."

The federal agencies approach also proposes what the coalition considers "overly broad and rigid" management restrictions, along with failing to clearly define a threshold methodology for disturbance of the sage grouse.

Braxton said the letter also was attempting to point out to the two federal agencies that their plans don't "balance conservation with continued economic activity" in the region and they are not "backed by sound science."

The coalition asked that the federal agencies address all of the issues identified before preparing a final set of amendments and EIS.

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