Senators question USFS role in sage grouse review

The greater sage grouse. Thirteen Democratic senators, including Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, are questioning what role the U.S. Forest Service played in the Trump administration's recent decision to review protections for the greater sage grouse.

In releasing its final revisions of greater sage-grouse conservation plans, the federal Bureau of Land Management says it has worked with states to strike a regulatory balance through flexibility and access.

The governors of Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California had asked BLM to revisit controversial amendments to range-management plans made in 2015 and adapt them to better meet the states’ individual needs.

In response, BLM developed changes in collaboration with the governors and state wildlife agency professionals as well as other concerned organizations and individuals, largely through the Western Governors’ Association sage grouse task force.

The results were that ranchers in some states got a lot more of what they wanted than in other states, Ethan Lane, executive director of Public Lands Council and senior director of federal lands for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in the "Beltway Beef" podcast.

That’s because BLM asked the states what they needed to make the plans work in their state. What Idaho needs is going to be much more in line with what ranchers need than in other states, such as Oregon, he said.

Of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, he said, “I’m not going to sugar coat this, (she) could care less what ranchers in her state think.”

Oregon also has a congressional delegation that except for Rep. Greg Walden isn’t concerned with anything east of the Cascade Mountains, he said.

So in states such as Oregon, ranchers are going to get less out of the process than in Idaho because the Interior Department was committed to working with states to get them where they needed to be, he said.

But initial language looks like the department has created room for things that are going to be beneficial to ranchers in Oregon, and there’s no shortage of hard work that’s gone into trying to make sure that happens, he said.

“I think the secretary and his team recognize that Gov. Brown is not the arbiter of what’s important across that state and she doesn’t necessarily see things the same way as those ranchers in eastern Oregon,” he said.

In Idaho, the proposed amendments would establish buffer distances corresponding to the state’s three types of habitat-management areas and remove the “sagebrush focal area” designation from the 2015 plans.

They would also adjust objectives for grazing management that contain or overlap with sagebrush steppe habitat and align BLM’s statutory mitigation requirements with those established under Idaho law.

The changes would require amendments to 21 resource management plans.

In Oregon, the proposed amendments focus on continuing to make public lands designated as Research Natural Areas available for livestock grazing. Seventeen permittees currently use parts of 13 RNAs in southeast Oregon.

They would align BLM’s statutory mitigation requirements with those established under Oregon law.

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