Ranchers Call for Integration of Latest Science in New Sage Grouse Plans

15 Mar 2024
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The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) have responded to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) unveiling of the updated management plans for greater sage grouse habitats. These plans are poised to influence land use policies across 10 states, spanning tens of millions of acres in the western region. Having undergone revisions in 2015 and 2019, the agency is presently amending 77 separate land use plans across the West, potentially designating vast areas as new Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs). Despite the extensive implications, the BLM has allowed a mere 90 days for comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a scant 60 days for feedback on proposed ACECs.

“This proposal has been years in the making. It will have far-reaching implications for how states conserve sage grouse habitat and how Western ranchers are able to operate going forward,” said NCBA President and Wyoming rancher Mark Eisele. “The BLM must extend the comment period and give local stakeholders more time to engage in this process—and that process must be driven, first and foremost, by sound science.”

“Years of research, including a very recent and comprehensive 10-year study, support the fact that managed livestock grazing is compatible and can actually benefit the bird,” said PLC President and Colorado federal grazing permittee Mark Roeber. “The agency must look at the science, and leverage livestock grazing as a tool for strengthening the sagebrush steppe, preventing wildfire, and conserving this iconic species.”

NCBA and PLC are urging the agency to substantially extend the deadlines for comment periods, enabling ranchers and other local stakeholders to thoroughly evaluate these intricate proposals.

BACKGROUND

The decline of sage grouse habitat across the western region stems from various factors, including devastating wildfires, urban expansion and the proliferation of invasive grass species. Presently, over half of the remaining optimal sage grouse habitat lies within BLM territories. Pressures on sage grouse habitat differ significantly from state to state, ecosystem to ecosystem, and even county to county. Generic conservation approaches prove inadequate for this species. Habitat preservation demands tailored strategies that address localized needs to yield optimal outcomes for the bird. Local stakeholders' expertise, particularly federal grazing permittees, will play a pivotal role in species conservation.

A recent University of Idaho study, considered one of the most comprehensive sage grouse investigations to date, has confirmed several benefits of grazing on sage grouse populations, including:

  •  Increasing insect biomass and diversity, crucial as a food source.
  •  Mitigation of wildfire risks, which threaten sage grouse and their habitat.
  • Reduction of cheatgrass and other invasive grasses detrimental to the sagebrush ecosystem.

Catalyst

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