Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced it will begin a 75-day scoping period to review greater sage grouse (GRSG) land management plans in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) issued the following statement in response:
“Today’s announcement makes it clear the Biden administration intends to continue its onslaught on western states and landowners. Previous administrations have already laid out robust conservation plans for the sage grouse, working closely with states and local stakeholders to formulate proactive, long-term solutions that would benefit both the species and the surrounding communities. The changes made in 2019 by the Trump administration were widely supported by both Republican and Democrat governors and have already been effective. Yet now, the Biden administration is waltzing in with another revision which will ultimately create confusion and tie up more lands in these states. This revision process could have significant harm on western communities, punishing them for population declines caused by drought and wildfire impacts, further exacerbated by federal inaction. I sent a letter to the Department of the Interior on this issue in June, urging them to work closely with the states and consider the effects of wildfires and drought. I have still not received a response to this letter and am dismayed, but not shocked, that DOI has planned no listening sessions in these states. Therefore, I am once again calling on the Biden administration to do what’s right and hold listening sessions in each of these states during this review.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) amended or revised land use plans in 2014 and 2015 in the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Subsequently, the BLM amended several of those plans in 2019 in the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. The BLM’s federal register notice says that this review is intended to “evaluate alternative management approaches to contribute to the conservation of GRSG and sagebrush habitats and to evaluate the impacts of any land use planning decisions directed toward GRSG and sagebrush habitat conservation.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Geological Survey published two studies highlighting GRSG population declines in certain areas of its range and sagebrush habitat loss. Two of the major factors in GRSG population and habitat decline are drought and wildfire, which are largely out of states’ and landowners’ control. Westerman’s June letter called on DOI to increase land management, including efforts to expedite the removal of cheatgrass, which is one of largest contributors to wildfire escalation. In fact, between 2000 and 2018, wildfires burned more than 15 million acres of sagebrush. The letter also noted that drought continues to play a role in sage grouse recovery, and that western land users must not be penalized for a natural endemic that results in the loss of GRSG habitat.
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