Written by Chloe Marie – Research Specialist
In early December 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published final environmental impact statements (EIS) and amendments to the Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plans in seven Western states. Generally, these actions have been welcomed within the energy industry as being in line with state plans for Sage-Grouse conservation. Within the environmental community, however, many concerns have been raised about the removal of protection in the Sagebrush Focal Areas and the loosening of the No Surface Occupancy requirements in some priority habitat management areas.
This article will provide an overview and timeline of BLM’s Proposed Amendments to the 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plans as well as outline the main changes to the plans for each of seven Western states.
On June 7, 2017, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued The primary purpose of this Secretarial Order was to enable further cooperation and a strategic partnership between eleven Western states, including the states of Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado in order to act for the sustainable management and conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse. To achieve this goal, Secretary Zinke appointed the Sage-Grouse Review Team – a policy body comprised of land managers and other professionals from federal government agencies – to re-examine and revise the 2015 Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plans and associated programs and policies across these eleven states.
On August 4, 2017, the Sage-Grouse Review Team issued a , in which the Team identified issues as well as short and long-term solutions to resolve Sage-Grouse conservation challenges. The Team recommended that Secretary Zinke direct the appropriate Interior bureaus to implement the proposed solutions and report periodically on their outcomes. Subsequently, BLM published a (NOI) in the Federal Register on October 11, 2017, opening the NEPA scoping period and inviting public comment on Greater Sage-Grouse land management issues that could warrant potential amendments to land use plans regarding Greater Sage-Grouse conservation. The scoping comment period ended on December 1, 2017.
In March 2018, BLM issued a entitled Potential Amendments to Land Use Plans Regarding Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation outlining the land use planning issues and concerns raised during the comment period. Based on information gathered from the scoping comment period, BLM drafted six Environmental Impact Statements and proposed amendments to the 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plans (RMPs) in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. On May 4, 2018, BLM issued a of draft Environmental Impact Statements for these states/areas and requested public comment. The public comment period closed on August 2, 2018.
The draft Environmental Impact Statements for Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation are listed below:
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Final Environmental Impact Statements and Proposed Amendments to Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plans
On December 7, 2018, BLM in the Federal Register the availability of Final Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendments and Final Environmental Impact Statements for the seven states involved in the review process. These documents are listed below:
In Nevada and Northeastern California, BLM proposed to modify the process for compensatory mitigation to align their existing scheme with BLM’s compensatory mitigation policy issued on July 24, 2018 through IM 2018-093. BLM suggested greater flexibility in state land management practices that will result in further improvements of Greater Sage-Grouse conservation, including adjustments to Habitat Management Area (HMA) designations based on the best available science. In addition, BLM proposed to remove the Sagebrush Focal Area (SFA) designations included in the 2015 RMP – all lands previously identified as SFA would be managed based on their underlying habitat management area designation. For additional information, please see (December 6, 2018).
In Northwest Colorado, BLM proposed to open 224,200 acres to fluid mineral leasing, but in accordance with a No Surface Occupancy (NSO) stipulation. BLM also suggested the establishment of additional site-specific waivers, exceptions and modifications, with the aim of avoiding disputes on jurisdiction between state agencies and local governments. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would allow adjustment of habitat management boundaries based on the best available science-based information and clarify mitigation procedures under the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. For additional information, please see (December 6, 2018).
The Proposed Plan Amendment in Idaho would impose buffers in General Habitat Management Areas (GHMA) and increase buffers for Sage-Grouse leks located in all Habitat Management Areas (HMA). BLM also proposed to increase the size of buffers for transmission lines located in Important Habitat Management Areas (IHMA). Furthermore, BLM would include exceptions to No Surface Occupancy (NSO) stipulations to reduce impacts on Greater Sage-Grouse in leases. Just as in Nevada and California, BLM Idaho proposed to modify its mitigation strategy in order to match BLM compensatory mitigation policy in IM 2018-093 and the state mitigation policy. For additional information, please see (December 6, 2018).
In Oregon, BLM proposed to modify the process for compensatory mitigation to align their existing scheme with BLM’s compensatory mitigation policy issued on July 24, 2018, through IM 2018-093. BLM also would clarify the allocation exception process for Sage-Grouse Priority Habitat Management Areas (PHMA) and General Habitat Management Areas (GHMA) to simplify the various 2015 Final EIS exemptions. For additional information, please see (December 6, 2018).
In Utah, BLM proposed to grant waivers to the No Surface Occupancy (NSO) fluid minerals stipulation as long as the area is not considered to be a Sage-Grouse Priority Habitat Management Area (PHMA). In addition, the proposal would allow disturbance and density caps to be exceeded only if the project development would improve the condition of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat and would allow development in PHMA provided that it is a non-habitat area. BLM also suggested that site-specific information associated with potential lease nomination be considered when identifying “essential habitat” as part of the unsuitability process for coal leasing. Furthermore, BLM would remove the Sagebrush Focal Area (SFA) designations included in the 2015 RMP and specify that lands previously managed as SFA would be managed based on their underlying habitat management area designation. BLM also would remove the General Habitat Management Area (GHMA) designations, which would be managed as described under Alternative A in the 2015 Final EIS. For additional information, please see (December 6, 2018).
The Proposed Amendment in Wyoming would improve the present language relating to habitat objectives and prioritization of leasing and would clarify provisions relating to compensatory mitigation. BLM also proposed to update the Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat Management Areas (HMA) and remove the Sagebrush Focal Area Designation. Furthermore, BLM suggested that additional flexibility be offered to grant waivers, exceptions and modifications in energy leasing. For additional information, please see (December 6, 2018).
The Final EIS and Proposed RMP amendments are subject to a public comment period, anticipated for January 7, 2019. Stay tuned for further regulatory developments!
Additional resources on this topic from the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.