The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued two instructional memorandums (IM) to help guide both immediate and longer-term conservation actions that are designed to conserve the greater sage grouse and its sagebrush habitat in 10 western states.

According to BLM, the IMs would benefit the species while maintaining a “robust” economy in the West.

“The aim of these science-based measures is to maintain and restore flourishing populations of greater sage grouse and sagebrush habitat,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “We are working to do this in a way that protects the health of our land, while also facilitating safe and responsible energy development and recreational opportunities that power our economy. By proactively addressing sage grouse conservation concerns on BLM lands, we also hope to maintain the widest possible range of options for our neighboring landowners.”

The interim management IM provides immediate direction to manage sage grouse habitat while BLM works on updating multiple land use plans. The measures represent a “starting point” to help the agency determine whether to authorize or continue certain activities in sage grouse habitat while it updates resource management plans (RMP), which guide multiple land use. The planning direction establishes “consistent protection measures” for the species and its habitat that would be incorporated into one or more alternatives for analysis in the environmental impact statements that wold be used to amend the RMPs. The decisions in these RMPs would provide for longer-term conservation for the sage grouse.

BLM’s IMs build on a series of federal and state initiatives under way to protect the sage grouse species while ensuring that energy production, recreational access and other uses of federal lands continue. These programs include Wyoming’s Sage Grouse Initiative developed under the leadership of Gov. Matt Mead, the BLM’s National Greater Sage Grouse Planning Strategy and the ongoing implementation of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Comprehensive Strategy.

In early December Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Mead held a meeting with representatives from eight western states to discuss ongoing efforts to conserve the greater sage grouse and identify next steps in implementing a landscape level strategy, including the development of the interim management IM (see Daily GPI, Dec. 12).

The ultimate goal of the conservation efforts is to avoid placing the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List (ESL) in 2015 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Mead said an ESL designation for the sage grouse would impact 80% of Wyoming’s lands.

Participants at the time discussed current strategies, challenges and areas of collaboration for local, state and federal governments to proactively address the needs of the species to ensure its long-term health and stability.

The IMs focus on actions proposed to take place in “preliminary priority habitat,” which has the highest conservation value for maintaining the species and its habitat.The guidance also covers actions in the “preliminary general habitat,” which was also identified through a collaborative effort with state wildlife agencies. BLM plans to refine the maps of priority and general habitat through its planning process, which is currently under way.

Both IMs took immediate effect. The interim management IM is to remain in effect until land use plans are amended or revised to conserve grouse and its habitat as outlined in BLM’s national strategy, which was issued in July. BLM’s RMP revisions are on different schedules in different areas, and some will be completed more rapidly than others, it noted. The IM won’t apply in Wyoming because its guidance has been approved by the FWS and adopted by BLM.

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