Vale District office

The Bureau of Land Management’s district office in Vale, Ore.

The final Environmental Impact Statement connected to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s plan for managing 4.6 million acres of southeastern Oregon could be released as soon as February, the agency’s Vale District Manager Don Gonzalez said.

The district is amending a 2002 plan that was vacated in federal appeals court and then subject to a 2010 settlement agreement. The settlement required updated information about lands with wilderness characteristics and an analysis of various management scenarios. A public comment period ended Aug. 28 on the draft management plan amendment and EIS.

Gonzalez said review-and-protest periods — of 30 days for the public and 60 for the Oregon governor’s office — start after the final EIS is released. BLM will ask tribes to participate in a government-to-government consultation if they wish.

The agency would try to resolve any protests before issuing a final record of decision, he said. Parties that formally protest the final EIS have standing to appeal the record of decision.

As for tribes, “that consultation occurs when the tribe wants to start it, but we would like to complete it before we issue the record of decision,” Gonzalez said.

Comments on the draft EIS included that BLM’s preferred alternative does not match that of the Interior Department-sanctioned, multi-stakeholder Southeastern Oregon Resource Advisory Committee, he said. The committee supported the alternative that protects 33 of the 76 areas deemed to have wilderness characteristics.

“We will address that in the final environmental impact statement,” Gonzalez said.

Of the four management-action alternatives proposed, the one BLM prefers aligns best with Interior’s priorities and BLM’s multiple-use mission, he said.

The BLM-preferred approach would not protect wilderness. It would keep current land-use planning allocations and grazing policies while providing for a sustainable forage yield. It would keep vehicle restrictions to protect grouse habitat.

The Oregon Natural Desert Association expressed many concerns about the process and BLM’s preferred alternative. In an electronic newsletter to members, it wrote that the agency’s preferred alternative “does not propose to manage any lands with wilderness characteristics in a way that will protect them,” disregards stakeholder input, and “leaves many of the Owyhee’s wildest areas vulnerable to development.” ONDA also wrote a 123-page comment letter to Gonzalez.

Some people expressed concern about impacts on sage grouse habitat, invasive species and grazing — from permit availability to environmental and wildfire impact, he said. Others advocated wildlife-connectivity corridors.

The final EIS and record of decision will address invasive species, such as non-native plants, including any mitigation steps, Gonzalez said. The documents will comply with a previously approved grouse plan.

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