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BLM Holds Meetings in Idaho on Possible Changes to Sage Grouse Plan

Protections for sage grouse include provisions for ranchers to graze their animals. (Ken Miracle/U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Protections for sage grouse include provisions for ranchers to graze their animals. (Ken Miracle/U.S. Department of Agriculture)
November 6, 2017

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Folks in Idaho Falls will have a chance to weigh in Monday night on a proposal to potentially make changes to the Bureau of Land Management's sage grouse conservation plan.

The plan was devised two years ago under the Obama administration.

Because the sage grouse is considered an indicator species, protections for it also help shield about 350 other species in the West, including elk, pronghorn and golden eagles.

But changes could open their habitat up to more drilling and mining.

Critics say states need more control of the plan.

Ken Rait, a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts, says the plan took years to develop and was collaboration with states and a variety of stakeholders.

"The 2015 plans were developed with specific state needs in mind and actually provide specific provisions requested by the various states,” he explains. “And so, the original plans were actually quite flexible."

The BLM also is holding a scoping meeting in Marsing on Tuesday. It held a hearing last week in Twin Falls.

The sage grouse already has lost half of its habitat and 95 percent of its historic population.

The bird's habitat, in the sagebrush sea of the Great Basin, is also considered critical for ranchers to graze their animals.

Matt Holloran, a leading scientist in the field of sage grouse research, last month submitted a letter, along with 16 other scientists, to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, expressing concern about the agency's decision to review the plan.

He says the 98 different sage grouse land-use plans should be given a chance to work.

"It's looking backwards,” he states. “We're nitpicking a series of management approaches that took a long time to develop. It's critical that we look forward."

The sage grouse habitat is part of an iconic western landscape that stretches across 50 million acres in eleven Western states.

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

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID