A diverse set of federal and state stakeholders has completed a new conservation plan for Utah that is designed to protect more than 90% of greater sage grouse habitat through a combination of incentives and “reasonable” regulations, Gov. Gary Herbert said last week.

The subject of mitigation debates and public hearings for years, the sage grouse has been a concern for state and federal officials in Wyoming and Colorado as well, other energy resource-rich states. The bird tends to nest in many areas that also tend to have oil and natural gas reserves. Utah had adopted al plan in 2003, which was revised in 2009.

About 8% of the total range-wide population of greater sage grouse is distributed through the northern, western and central parts of Utah.

Last year, a diverse group was appointed to address the habitat issues, bringing together Utah county commissions, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Utah’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture and Food, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), as well as industry and commerce representatives.

The agreed-upon plan is designed to protect “high-quality habitat, enhance impaired habitat and restore converted habitat as a result of the working groups efforts dating back more than a year.” “The direction the plan provides will maintain or increase the number of sage grouse in Utah, while allowing economic development to continue,” the governor said.

The plan attempts to eliminate the need to list the sage grouse as threatened or endangered by federal officials. In 2010, the USFWS began a process to place the species on the endangered list, and it is under court order to review that finding by 2015. Annual goals are to protect 10,000 acres of prime sage grouse habitat, enhance 25,000 acres of existing habitat and increase the total amount of habitat for the birds by 50,000 acres.

Incentive-based programs are included for private, local government and SITLA lands, and there are “reasonable and cooperative” regulatory programs. The plan acknowledged that Utah has a “highly discontinuous habitat pattern,” partly due to natural topography and because of land-use activities.

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