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How to Save Sage-Grouse? BLM asks Rural OR to Weigh In

January 13, 2012

LAKEVIEW, Ore. – There may be more sage-grouse than human residents in some Oregon counties, but the birds' numbers overall are dwindling across the West - and sage-grouse are candidates for endangered species listing. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is trying to prevent that, and asking the public for input in a series of meetings as it revises its Resource Management Plans in ten states to preserve the birds' habitat.

Liz Nysson, energy policy coordinator with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), says the threats in Oregon's high desert include road-building and other development, and the spread of juniper that's edging out the sagebrush the birds need to survive.

"This is a good opportunity for people and groups that are interested parties to learn more and to be engaged in this process. The health of the sage grouse reflects the health of our high-desert systems, and it's important that we take steps to protect this habitat."

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) says it will have representatives at all five Oregon meetings. ODFW updated the state sage-grouse plan last year, and the BLM is expected to include some of those ideas in the federal plan.

Grazing on public land is seen by some as another concern, although Lake County rancher John O'Keefe says cattle and sage-grouse have coexisted for years. He plans to be at the first Oregon meeting (Tues., Jan. 17) in Lakeview.

"A lot of people want to use this issue to remove livestock from the range, so we've got to make sure that the BLM is looking at this in a fashion that balances all the uses, and takes into account the benefits that there are from having ranchers on the range."

He says those benefits include removing fuel that would otherwise increase wildfire risks, and keeping scarce desert water sources in shape.

O'Keefe says ranchers, conservation groups, and government agencies have at least one thing in common on this topic - they don't want to see sage-grouse on the endangered species list.

"That makes any activity so cumbersome, because of all the case law and the stuff involved with having the species on the list. So, it'd be good for everybody to have it not be listed."

After the Lakeview meeting, others will follow in Ontario (Jan. 23), Baker City (Jan. 24), Burns (Jan. 25) and Prineville (Jan. 26). Information about the BLM's sage-grouse management role is online at www.blm.gov/sagegrouse. On that page, under the heading "Public Scoping Meetings," click on "Western Schedule" for a full list of meeting sites. Comments can also be submitted by email until Feb. 10 at sagewest@blm.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR