Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Thursday joined national and regional U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials in signing off on a long-term BLM resource management plan that incorporates a state plan for protecting the greater sage grouse.

Both state and federal officials emphasized the potential model the Lander Resource Management Plan can provide other states wanting to incorporate their own sage grouse protection steps with the BLM's broader, long-term resource management plans (RMP).

Calling the BLM plan "reasoned," Mead said the federal agency has worked closely with Wyoming "for the best use of public land," and the Lander RMP is "another step forward in a productive relationship among the BLM, the state and the public interest. In my view this is the most significant step the BLM has taken on sage grouse."

While the new BLM plan covering Wyoming provides "opportunities" for oil/natural gas and livestock commercial development, it also provides conservation protections as exemplified by the federal agency incorporating Wyoming's sage grouse plan, said Neil Kornze, BLM national director.

"The governor and the people of Wyoming have set out a core strategy for the protection of the sage grouse, and it is a special effort because it cuts across all types of land ownership [federal, state and private], setting out a strategy that is flexible and meaningful," Kornze said. "Today, we are integrating our plan with the governor's plan."

Kornze called the collaborative effort "a huge stride forward," noting it replaces a 30-year-old document.

State officials emphasized that the BLM has recognized Wyoming's leadership role and has adopted the governor's executive order in the management actions contained in the Lander RMP. "Hopefully this will be a signal to other states that this is something possible if you work across land ownership [federal, state and private]," a spokesperson for Mead said.

Mead specifically called out nearly two dozen agencies and organizations involved in the development of the overall plan, including industry partners.

Highlights of the new BLM comprehensive plan are:

A master leasing plan covering a specified landscape of more than 100,000 acres in the Lander RMP, outlining how leasing and development should take place, including oil/gas development;

Guidance is provided for balancing future oil/gas development with sustaining wildlife resources; and

Protection of archeological and paleontological resources is ensured.

"We look forward to having this as a model as we go forward with many other master leasing plans across the West," Kornze said. "All of this would not have been possible without the leadership of Gov. Mead. I think he and Wyoming have done something extraordinary, showing you can have good economic development while still capturing the importance of conservation."

Separately, BLM in May began the environmental review process for a major proposed multi-year oil/natural gas drilling project in east-central Wyoming that could force federal authorities to adjust their current species and habitat protection requirements (see Daily GPI, May 19). BLM is taking comments through Monday.

Three years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead a letter of commendation for the state's efforts to conserve the sage grouse throughout the state under a protection plan ordered by the governor (see Daily GPI, July 1, 2011).