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BLM writing aggressive plan to save Gunnison sage grouse in Colo., Utah
Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Greenwire: Monday, June 16, 2014
The Bureau of Land Management is developing a sweeping plan to protect the Gunnison sage grouse in Colorado and Utah that involves amending land management plans in both states to install buffer zones around sensitive habitat, impose seasonal restrictions on oil and gas drilling and livestock grazing, and close roads and trails in occupied grouse habitat.
The plan builds on internal guidance issued last summer by BLM’s Colorado State Office instructing employees on how best to manage occupied habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse, which is found almost exclusively in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah. The Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court mandate to decide this fall whether to list it for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
But the new plan, which BLM outlined exclusively to Greenwire, significantly expands on that guidance by proposing to amend up to 11 resource management plans (RMPs) covering 800,000 acres of Gunnison sage grouse habitat in both states. Doing so would make it formal BLM policy to restrict development within a 4-mile buffer of Gunnison breeding grounds, called leks; limit recreational activities like bird watching and hunting during breeding season; and impose surface occupancy restrictions in occupied Gunnison habitat.
As part of the RMP amendment process, BLM will consider amending management plans to include provisions that “exclude new energy development and rights of way” on federal land in occupied Gunnison habitat and close off these lands to “fluid mineral leasing,” including oil, natural gas and geothermal projects, according to agency documents.
The objective is to take the same landscape-level approach to Gunnison that BLM is using to protect the greater sage grouse, which occupies a much larger range than the Gunnison grouse and is also under evaluation by Fish and Wildlife for a possible threatened or endangered listing.
BLM in the last year has formally proposed 15 regional greater sage grouse plans that call for amending dozens of RMPs covering the management of millions of acres of grouse habitat in 10 Western states.
“We are really trying to look at this now on a landscape scale,” said Leigh Espy, a BLM project manager overseeing the Gunnison sage grouse plan in Lakewood, Colo. “Not, as we would say, just the Gunnison basin, or just the Uncompahgre area, but rather the entirety of the bird’s range. We’re figuring out how to benefit the species on that level.”
BLM plans to formally launch the RMP amendment process for the Gunnison grouse later this month when the agency publishes a notice of intent in the Federal Register announcing that it will conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate the management plan amendments and kicking off a 30-day public scoping period, Espy said.
BLM is targeting completion of the EIS and implementation of the formal RMP amendments by June 2016, she said.
In the meantime, BLM today issued an instruction memorandum (IM) to agency field offices in Colorado and Utah directing them to follow the tenants of the proposed management plan.
The IM states that protecting Gunnison grouse habitat “is crucial for the conservation and protection of this species,” and it outlines a number of conservation measures that mirror the more aggressive steps taken in recent years to protect the greater sage grouse, whose habitat covers 11 Western states.
“Through this range-wide plan amendment process, BLM Colorado and Utah [field offices] should consider and evaluate [Gunnison] habitat conservation measures related to timing restrictions, buffer distances, percentages of allowable surface-disturbing activities, noise and desired density levels or other development constraints” that are consistent with peer-reviewed or other valid sage grouse research, according to the IM.
“At a minimum, [field offices] will analyze and implement conservation measures that prohibit or limit energy and discretionary mineral development within four miles of active leks, and minimize surface disturbance and disruptive activities in all occupied habitat, where appropriate,” the IM states.
The RMP amendments that are the centerpiece of BLM’s habitat conservation plan will not be finalized until well after Fish and Wildlife issues a final decision whether to list the Gunnison grouse this fall.
But BLM says that it hopes moving on the conservation plan and issuing the new IM to field office staff will demonstrate to Fish and Wildlife that fundamental steps are being implemented to protect the Gunnison sage grouse. And if FWS decides to list the bird this fall, BLM will at least have started its new plan, said Steven Hall, an agency spokesman in Lakewood.
“This will be the policy of the BLM,” Hall said.
BLM’s Gunnison sage grouse plan comes just weeks after a federal judge approved a request by Fish and Wildlife to push back by six months the deadline to decide whether to list the bird — to Nov. 12 from May 12 (Greenwire, May 6).
FWS first proposed listing the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered in January 2013.
Fish and Wildlife was originally required to make a final listing decision on the ground-dwelling bird by May 12 under the terms of a 2011 settlement agreement with WildEarth Guardians stemming from a backlog of species awaiting final listing decisions.
WildEarth Guardians did not oppose the extension request because, the group says, the Interior Department committed to some extensive new mitigation measures, including updating RMPs across the Gunnison sage grouse’s range in Colorado and Utah to include conservation measures.
The legal settlements, the deadline this fall to determine the status of the Gunnison sage grouse and a September 2015 deadline for the greater sage grouse have been heavily criticized by Western lawmakers and the oil and gas industry.
The latest Gunnison grouse proposal is almost certain to spark renewed criticism, especially from Western governors and congressional leaders who in recent weeks have been pushing the Obama administration to defer to the states or to delay by years making a final ruling on the bird.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) filed a bill last month that would delay by as long as 10 years listing both the Gunnison sage grouse and the greater sage grouse, while giving states the lead in conserving the birds’ habitat (Greenwire, May 22).
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urged Western governors during last week’s Western Governors’ Association (WGA) annual meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo., to oppose the bill, saying it wouldn’t help the bird (Greenwire, June 10).
The WGA last week adopted a resolution calling on the federal government to give maximum deference to state conservation efforts and to prioritize funding to avoid new ESA listings.
The resolution referenced only the greater sage grouse, and it did not explicitly endorse delaying Fish and Wildlife’s listing deadline. But it did support legislation or legal or regulatory steps that would allow federal, state and local conservation efforts “adequate time” to be rolled out and be proved effective (E&ENews PM, June 11).
The WGA resolution said state and multistate conservation plans for candidate species such as sage grouse — upon review and endorsement by Fish and Wildlife or the National Marine Fisheries Service — should lead to “regulatory presumption” that an ESA listing is not needed.
The agencies should give “full recognition to voluntary conservation efforts conducted by landowners, states, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders,” the resolution said.
Ongoing conservation efforts
BLM has been working with Colorado as far back as 2005, when they partnered to establish the Gunnison Sage-grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan aimed at preserving the bird and its sagebrush steppe habitat.
Colorado has done a significant amount of conservation work on Gunnison habitat protection, including enrolling private landowners in formal agreements to take steps to protect or restore habitat on their properties in exchange for assurances that they will not be subjected to more regulations should the bird ever be federally listed.
State and county officials also have worked with land trusts to purchase tens of thousands of acres of conservation easements and adopt county land-use restrictions.
Colorado has also worked closely with the oil and gas industry in the state.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) last year agreed to expand the acreage in formally designated sensitive wildlife habitat areas that require the oil and gas industry to consult with state wildlife officials and avoid impacts before drilling wells. That included adding more than 400,000 acres to Gunnison sage grouse sensitive wildlife habitat, for a total of more than 1 million acres (EnergyWire, Sept. 18, 2013).
While there is currently very little oil and gas development on federal lands in southwest Colorado, there certainly could be in the future, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association in Grand Junction, Colo.
Any policy decision to restrict development there would be shortsighted, Ludlam said, noting that advancements in directional-drilling techniques have made it safer to drill near sensitive wildlife habitat.
“We’ll be watching these RMP revisions and hoping that the agency isn’t going to be making reactionary, arbitrary policy decisions,” he said. “We hope they’ll be steeped in science and maintain the flexibility for commercial infrastructure that’s in harmony with protections for the grouse. We think you can do both.”
BFGoodrich® Tires, in collaboration with United Four Wheel Drive Associations (UFWDA) and Blue Ribbon Coalition, today announced the winners of the 2014 Outstanding Trails program. Nominated for uniqueness, terrain type and enthusiast following, the trails selected for this year’s program are:
- Pole Line Trail, Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, Pennsylvania
- Mineral Basin Trail, American Fork Canyon, Utah
- Billings Canyon Trail, Grand Junction, Colorado
Since its inception in 2006, The Outstanding Trails program has been dedicated to the responsible use and preservation of off-road trails. In the last eight years, Outstanding Trails has recognized more than 33 off-road trails throughout the country and has awarded over $130,000 in grants in support of trail conservation efforts.
“BFGoodrich Tires is about providing driving enthusiasts the capability to discover the best of what we call Playground Earth,” said Duane Thomas, brand communications manager for BFGoodrich Tires. “The Outstanding Trails program is a reflection of that commitment to work with four wheel clubs to enhance the trail system in North America and provide more opportunities to get out and play.”
BFGoodrich Tires 2014 Outstanding Trails
During the course of the year, BFGoodrich Tires will be at club events associated with these trails to highlight the uniqueness of each location, educate off-road enthusiasts on the responsible use of the trails and present a $4,000 grant to each club to assist in the preservation of trail access.
- The Pole Line Trail is part of the 6,500 acre Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, a motorized recreation facility with its trailhead located in Coal Township, Pennsylvania. The AOAA frequently holds events, trials and family-oriented rides along this busy trail.
- The Mineral Base Trail takes its name from the rich history of mining in the area from the late 1800s and is one of the most popular trails in North Utah. The Dirt Hedz Offroad Club helps maintain the track and they are applying to the Forest Service’s “Adopt- A-Trail” program to become the trail’s official caretakers.
- The Billings Canyon Trail is 10 years old and one of the early extreme trails in Colorado. It was developed by the Grand Mesa Jeep Club and is still maintained by the club today. Rock Junction and The Grand Mesa Jeep Off-road Show are both held at this magnificent trail.
“UFWDA has been honored to be a partner in the Outstanding Trails program,” said Jim Mazzola, President of UFWDA. “The more than 30 grants provided by BFGoodrich as part of the Outstanding Trails program have made a tremendous impact helping preserve some of the most beautiful off-road trails available.”
“The three trails and clubs recognized in 2014 truly live up to the name ‘Outstanding Trail’,” said Del Albright, Blue Ribbon Coalition Ambassador. “These clubs are doing some great work to help improve and conserve access to these trails.”
About the Outstanding Trails Program
The BFGoodrich Tires Outstanding Trails program was established in 2006 to raise awareness for responsible use and preservation of off-road trails while providing support in the trails’ conservation efforts. Through 2014, the Outstanding Trails program has recognized over 30 off-road trails and clubs across North America. The program has provided more than $130,000 in grants in support of the various trails conservation efforts.
Both Blue Ribbon Coalition and UFWDA are non-profit organizations dedicated to responsible and ethical outdoor recreation. BFGoodrich Tires collaborated with these two groups to select the finest off-road trails and continues to work with these organizations on restoration and education initiatives.
About BFGoodrich Tires
Using motorsports as a proving ground for more than 40 years, BFGoodrich Tires is involved in every type of racing, including sports car, drag, desert, dirt, rally and extreme rock crawling. BFGoodrich Tires combines technological expertise with vast motorsports experience, delivering a high-performance tire for every type of vehicle. Visit BFGoodrich Tires at www.BFGoodrichTires.com, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/BFGoodrichTires or on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/BFGoodrichTires.
About United Four Wheel Drive Associations
United Four Wheel Drive Associations is the world’s leading representative of all-brand, four wheel-drive enthusiasts. UFWDA benefits, developed and tested over the past 30 years, include four-wheel-drive safety and awareness education; such user ethics programs as adopt-a-road, conservation volunteer and volunteer trail patrol; assistance with new club formation; education seminars to aid four wheelers through complex state and federal programs affecting trail access; internet forums designed to instantly connect members globally; a legislative advocate and nationally recognized attorney who works exclusively for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts to protect access and prevent road and trail closures. For more information on the UFWDA log on to www.ufwda.org, or call 1-800-44-UFWDA (800-448-3932).
About Blue Ribbon Coalition
The Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC) is a national non-profit organization that champions responsible recreation and encourages a strong conservation ethic and individual stewardship, while providing leadership in efforts to keep outdoor recreation alive and well — all sports; all trails. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, participation in the administrative process, outreach, education and collaboration among recreationists. BRC works with land managers to provide recreation opportunities, preserve resources and promote cooperation with other public land users. BRC is recognized nationwide for its credible staff of landuse and recreation professionals, as well as a legal team with nearly 30 years of accomplishments. Learn more at www.BlueRibbonCoalition.Org or call 1-800-BLUERIB (258-3742).
- Drive on the Beach of Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- PA Jeeps Scholarship Fund
- AMA update on Johnson Valley
- A Successful Day on Capitol Hill – TN OHV & SFWDA in action
- VA4WDA 2014 Annual Meeting
- Recreation Community Urges Recreation Enhancement, Not Just Fees
- 4WD Sponsoring Three Trails for Easter Jeep Safari
- PA DCNR recreation survey
- Dynatrac, Superlift and Falken Tire Host EJS Bunny Run 7
- Epic Decision for Glamis Sand Recreation
- eNews April 14
Barely a month following argument, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. Northern District Court of California yesterday issued a long-awaited decision on the 2013 ISDRA management plan, ruling almost entirely on the side of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and sand-rider organizations, and against the latest challenge led by the Center for Biological Diversity. The ruling sets the stage for implementation of the 2013 plan, which would allow resumption of access to areas placed off-limits to riders through “interim” closures imposed over a decade ago.
Please share this information with your membership and ask them to contact their Members of the U.S. Senate (except, of course, Senators Klobuchar, Risch, Shaheen, Burr, Boxer and Vitter) and request that they sign on to the letter supporting the continuation of the RTP in the next surface transportation authorization bill. Our basic message is that the RTP is a very effective, user-pay/user-benefit program and a proven success story. It serves as the foundation for state trail programs across the country, benefits motorized and non-motorized trail users alike, leverages significant additional support for trails, encourages productive cooperation among trail users, and facilitates healthy outdoor recreation and associated, badly needed economic activity in countless communities throughout the nation.
Time is very short. The deadline for Senators’ response is noon on Wednesday, April 9th.
Thanks very much for your help.
Catherine A. Ahern
American Recreation Coalition and Coalition for Recreational Trails
1200 G Street, N.W., Suite 650
Washington, D.C. 20005
- SFWDA New Association Logo,
- U.S. House passes bill to overturn ORV plan for Outer Banks,
- BFGoodrich® Tires Call for Entries for 2014 Outstanding Trails Program,
- Land Management Planning Rule,
- Replacing your Catalytic Converter,
- ‘Voice’ needs a cover photo,
- 2014 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival,
- Wallowa-Whitman National Forest – Planning,
- AMA identify changes in BLM fees,
- Cibola National Forest MVUM,
- Roads and Wilderness???
- The top 3 4WD tracks in the Gladstone region
- eNews March 2014
With its charter issue in late December, charter subscriptions to the new magazine OutdoorX4 are now available.
OutdoorX4 is focused on providing engaging content that inspire adventurers and families alike to get out and explore responsibly, whether it’s in a 4×4 vehicle, dual-sport motorcycle, or using various modes of transportation to get out and enjoy the outdoors.
Charter subscriptions are only $25 annually ($30 Canada, $55 International) and include the following:
– Six issues (print & digital) offered bi-monthly in perfect-bound format
– OutdoorX4 decal
– DVD copy of “Nature Propelled”, a film about utilizing the natural elements to explore
- Sand Lick Road Update,
- Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival,
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes,
- Minnesota Hunting Season OHV Restrictions,
- 8 Stunning Fall Drives through a National Forest,
- SnoFari January 24 / 25 2014,
- Toys for Tots,
- WOHVA Update October ‘13,
- UFWDA online magazine ‘Voice’,
- Recreation Survey to be conducted on Wayne National Forest,
- National Forests Remain Accessible,
- Hunters are OHV users too,
- City car rentals put brake on 4WD lease during vacations,
- Thinking of Easter Safari 2014?
Thank You to Survive Off Road for their commitment to being “United”. UFWDA appreciates their sponsorship support. They have a great website and you can also find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SurviveOffRoad , be sure to visit!
Now is the time for your company to commit to being united in our fight to keep our trails open. Join us.
Contact Business (at) ufwda.org to learn more