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Interior secretary asks for review of greater sage-grouse conservation plans

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By Chris Heck

On Wednesday, June 7, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order that charges an internal team with the review of all federal and state greater sage-grouse conservation plans finalized in September 2015. The team will have 60 days to evaluate whether the federal and state plans are complementary, and if deemed appropriate, will discuss modifying the federal plans to better align with the state plans.

In September 2015, the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (USDA) finalized amendments and revisions to 98 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land-use plans across 11 western states to reflect the government’s greater sage-grouse conservation objectives. During the development of the plans, NACD submitted comments to both USDA/USFS and DOI/BLM/U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS). On September 22, 2015, then Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that an endangered listing was “not warranted” for the greater sage-grouse. USFWS cited the government’s conservation plans for the bird as a key reason for the “not warranted” listing decision. NACD’s statement on the decision can be found here.

Secretary Zinke’s appointed review team is made up of experts from the BLM, USFWS, and U.S. Geological Survey. He has asked the team to focus on how the plans address invasive grasses and wildfire – two major threats to rangeland health and greater sage-grouse habitat.

NRCS employee Michael Brown shows the key places where he and others will work with ranchers and other partners to conserve and connect sage-grouse habitat. Photo courtesy of the Sage Grouse Initiative’s Deborah Richie.

As part of the departments’ ongoing review of past departmental action regarding mitigation policies, the team will also identify provisions within the federal plans that it believes should be adjusted or rescinded.

This secretarial action is separate from the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), which was established in 2010 as a coordinated effort between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), conservation districts, state and federal agencies, and conservation, agriculture, and wildlife organizations. Since 2010, SGI has partnered with 1,474 ranchers to conserve roughly 5.6 million acres through a voluntary, incentive-based approach to conservation. In August of 2015, then Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the next phase of SGI – SGI 2.0 – which will invest $211 million through 2018 to assist in this rangeland conservation effort.

NACD will continue to closely follow any action on the greater sage-grouse and will provide periodic updates as the DOI review team conducts its review.

Chris Heck, NACD government affairs associate, can be reached by email at chris-heck@nacdnet.org.

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