The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Thursday issued instructions for conserving the greater sage grouse and its habitat in seven different land-use situations, oil and natural gas development being one.
Neil Kornze, BLM director, emphasized that the instruction memorandums (IM) are part of the greater sage grouse protection plans that were developed in coordination with "our partners in the states and interested stakeholders. "These IMs respond to state and stakeholder desires to see clear and consistent application of our management activities across the western greater sage grouse states while providing the flexibility needed to respond to local situations and concerns."
Besides oil/gas, IMs were issued for grazing permit review; grazing management; adaptive management triggers; disturbance tracking; effectiveness monitoring; and habitat assessment frameworks.
A year ago in a milestone decision that the energy industry, state political leaders and environmentalists all supported, the Obama administration decided to protect the greater sage grouse with public-private conservation programs at the state level and not through listing of the ground-dwelling bird under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It amounted to the largest land conservation effort ever undertaken, according to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2015).
A major political, economic and environmental issue for 11 western states and the subject of pleas from the oil/natural gas industry and western state governors, the ESA decision pending for months last year brought together an unlikely set of allies. Groups such as the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) a year ago came together to praise the federal government's decision.
BLM officials on Thursday said the IMs clarify how aspects of the BLM land-use plans will be implemented.
Kornze said that even though the IMs are designed to be "guides to a single issue" such as oil/gas they all share the same goal of "effectively conserving the West's sagebrush sea" for the benefit of both people and animals.
BLM said the oil/gas IM will prioritize oil/gas leasing and development in relation to the habitat management areas, "consistent with sage grouse conservation strategies and greater sage grouse land-use plans." It applies to activities in areas covered by both the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin regions of BLM.
"The objectives of this IM are: (a) to ensure consistency across BLM offices when implementing the greater sage grouse plans' decisions aimed at avoiding or limiting new surface disturbance in priority habitat management areas, including sagebrush focal areas; (b) minimizing surface disturbance in general habitat management areas; and (c) to provide clarity to the BLM field offices on how to move forward with oil/gas leasing and development activities within designated greater sage grouse habitats."