Idaho developing sage grouse mitigation credit program

A greater sage grouse. Idaho is in the process of developing a plan to offer credits, which would be sold directly from the state to an interested buyer, to mitigate for development in sage grouse habitat.

BOISE — A task force that drafted Idaho’s version of a sage grouse management plan has continued meeting to work out details of a program offering credits to mitigate for development in sage grouse habitat.

Dustin Miller, administrator with the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, said his agency is overseeing the program’s creation, and many have suggested that it should ultimately administer it.

Miller said businesses pursuing projects affecting sage grouse habitat, such as power and mining companies, would buy credits to offset the harm to the bird from their development. The funds would go into an account used to cover habitat improvements and other projects benefiting sage grouse throughout the state.

Miller envisions the program would provide financial opportunities for farmers and ranchers, who could generate credits by making sage grouse improvements on their land, in exchange for payments.

Rather than pursuing isolated “postage stamp” projects, Miller said the approach would enable the state to “take those funds and go big on some of these projects in areas where we know we could get benefits for sage grouse.”

Unlike sage grouse mitigation programs planned in states including Wyoming, Nevada and Colorado, Miller said Idaho’s credits wouldn’t be traded on the open market. Rather, he said, they’d be offered directly from the state to interested buyers. He said Idaho is taking a more simple approach because it doesn’t have the same level of mitigation demand.

Miller explained the mitigation credit framework was conceived by an Idaho Department of Fish and Game Sage Grouse Advisory Committee and later handed over to the governor’s 14-member task force. The BLM melded its own proposed plan with the Idaho plan, including the mitigation framework, in the land-use plan it approved for sage grouse, averting an endangered species listing for the bird. The state, however, has an active lawsuit against the BLM over the plan, largely due to the agency’s 11th-hour choice to include 10 million acres of “focal areas” with greater land-use restrictions. A third of those protected areas are in Idaho.

Miller said the state plans to start with a pilot program. The committee is scheduled to have its third meeting on the topic in Boise March 15-16, where it should finalize a drafts of a sage grouse science plan, a tool to quantify habitat value for calculating credits and a manual directing how the program should operate.

John Robison, public director with the Idaho Conservation League, serves on the task force and considers the mitigation framework to be a “great example of multiple agencies actually collaborating together on the local, state and federal level.”

“There have been a lot of lessons learned about other mitigation efforts in other states,” Robison said. “We’re trying to figure out how to customize the mitigation plan for Idaho’s needs.”

Randy Vranes, with Monsanto, also serves on the committee.

“This is a proactive effort by the state to get something in place so we could fend off future federal efforts,” Vranes said.

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