Between Christmas and New Year’s Day in 2011, without any hearings or public notice, the Bureau of Land Management issued its “Greater Sage-Grouse Interim Management Policies and Procedures” with the stated goal of preventing the bird being listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Just three months after the guidelines were issued, using the sage grouse as its excuse, the BLM slashed the number of acres to be auctioned for lease for oil and natural gas exploration in the Ely and Elko districts from 133,000 acres to only 72,000 acres. (As if that weren’t bad enough, the BLM recently told an oil exploration company that its drilling rigs and pump jacks should not be visible from the California Trail in Elko County. This affects 22 of 33 well sites.)
It was pointed out at the time that the biggest threats to the grouse are wildfire and predators, not drillers and miners.
Meanwhile, county commissioners across the range of the sage grouse have been grousing about roads being closed and thousands of acres being removed from public economic use for the sake of the sage grouse.
Another front in the battle was opened recently by a liberal conservation group called the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), which filed a federal lawsuit in Idaho claiming the BLM’s Ely district is not doing enough to protect the chicken-sized bird with the flashy mating rituals. The suit is one in a long series by this group.
WWP describes its mission on its website as “to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands.”
The newest lawsuit accuses the BLM of allowing the construction or reconstruction of over 400 miles of fences, drilling of water wells and constructing reservoirs, pipelines and livestock watering facilities “in direct contradiction to BLM’s own management guidelines, policies and other provisions designed to protect and enhance sage-grouse populations and habitat.”
The suit claims that just about any use of the land is detrimental to the grouse.
A reduction in grazing on federal land in recent decades fueled a rapid increase in wildfires that destroy sage grouse habitat. Prior to 1980 fewer than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. Since then the BLM and Forest Service have cut cattle grazing in half and sheep grazing by 80 percent. It is not uncommon now to have three-quarters of a million acres of Nevada burn in a year.
Rather than killing economic activity on public lands, the BLM should be closely monitoring a sage grouse conservation experiment at the 15,000-acre Devils Gate Ranch in Elko County.
Whose method do you think will save sage grouse?