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Waves of Change Set for Idaho’s Sagebrush Sea

Idaho's sagebrush sea is part of a set of new proposals from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service that would oversee fire risks, development and wildlife habitat. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Idaho's sagebrush sea is part of a set of new proposals from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service that would oversee fire risks, development and wildlife habitat. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
May 29, 2015

BLACKFOOT, Idaho - Idaho's sagebrush sea is part of a set of new proposals from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service that would oversee fire risks, development and wildlife habitat.

Sagebrush landscapes are home to greater sage-grouse and 350 other species, as well as prime ranching and recreation land. The new federal plans acknowledge Idaho's state plan to boost greater sage-grouse populations.

Jack Connelly, a wildlife biologist in Blackfoot who served as an adviser when the state plan was crafted, said he was pleased to see a focus on science.

"These folks up front said, 'We want our plan to be driven by science. We don't want to rely on dogma or wishful thinking,'" Connelly said.

The sage-grouse is one of the most-researched species in the West, Connelly said. The federal plans map out priority zones for habitat where surface disturbances will be limited, while also honoring all existing development rights, rights of way and other permitted projects. The plans also outline ways to improve habitat conditions and reduce wildlife risks.

Ken Rait, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' U.S. Public Lands program, said work that states have done are an important part of the strategy.

"Those plans respond to the efforts that governors have been making in forging planning efforts regarding state land and private lands," Rait said.

Greater sage-grouse conservation often has been a political point of contention, and initial negative reactions have labeled the plan as too restrictive or not observant of state plans. The federal plans could be further tweaked before becoming final, and there will be a 30-day protest period.

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Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

State plans are listed online at blm.gov.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID