Newspaper column: BLM sage grouse guidelines will bury land users in paperwork

The Bureau of Land Management this past week issued eight guideline memos instructing federal land managers in 11 Western states as to how they are to carry out policies intended to protect greater sage grouse — a move that threatens to bury ranchers, miners, oil and gas explorers and construction companies under a mountain of paperwork and impose lengthy delays, while doing little to actually protect the birds.

The move comes a year after the Interior Department declined to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act but instead issued reams of land use restrictions meant to protect the grouse, even though the number of male grouse counted in leks across the West had increased by 63 percent between 2013 and 2015, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Restrictions are being imposed even though sage grouse are legally hunted in many Western states, including Nevada.

Like the record of decision on sage grouse management issued this past September, the memos largely ignore one of the biggest threats to the colorfully plumed, ground-dwelling grouse — predators, primarily ravens and coyotes — and address almost entirely human economic endeavors. The 90-page record of decision used the word predator only once.

The memos, signed by BLM Deputy Director Steven Ellis, open with statements of purpose that say they are to provide guidance for analyzing and establishing thresholds for land use, with separate memos addressing grazing permits and general surface disturbances.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, immediately fired off a statement denouncing the guidelines as a ploy by the Obama administration to block oil and gas development.

“These plans, written as if the sage grouse were listed, are proof it was an underhanded, de facto listing scheme that further oppresses Western states,” Bishop said in a written statement provided to The Associated Press.

Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who is running to replace Harry Reid in the Senate, commented, “With these new guidelines, the administration continues to disregard the input of state and local stakeholders, like our ranching and mining families, whose livelihoods depend on being good stewards of the land. Unfortunately, the guidelines have more to do with avoiding costly lawsuits from special interests, like my opponent Catherine Cortez Masto’s biggest campaign donor, the League of Conservation Voters, than they do with actual conservation. And Nevada’s economy will pay the price.”

If there is a bright spot in any of this micromanaging from Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, it is that two days prior to the memos being sent out the Interior Department inked a deal with Newmont Mining and its ranching subsidiary to jointly manage sage grouse habitat so the company can continue mining operations and exploration, as well as grazing, in Nevada. Wildlife and natural resource agencies of the state helped broker the deal.

A statement from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office called the agreement a first of its kind in scope and scale. It was not mentioned that Newmont was under considerable duress to cut a deal with federal land agencies, which held all the cards, though Sandoval called the deal a good-faith, public-private partnership.

“Through this historic agreement, Newmont has committed to implementing a wide-ranging, landscape-level conservation plan that includes voluntarily managing certain areas of its private rangelands and ranches in Nevada to achieve net conservation gains for sagebrush species,” Sandoval said in a press release.

Though the BLM guideline memos envision grazing restrictions to protect grouse, the Newmont deal specifically notes that one of the first pilot projects to be implemented under the agreement will use targeted grazing to reduce cheatgrass, an invasive species that contributes to the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

The Newmont deal also makes a vague reference to implementing “practices to reduce human-induced advantages for predators of greater sage-grouse” — presumably fewer fence posts and power line poles from which ravens can scout for nests with eggs.

The BLM’s handling of the sage grouse issue remains in active litigation in federal court, where the agency is being sued by Nevada, nine rural counties, two mining companies and a ranch, with Attorney General Adam Laxalt taking the lead, despite Sandoval’s reluctance.

Laxalt has stated that the BLM’s grouse efforts blatantly disregard the input of Nevada experts and stakeholders in violation of federal law.

The BLM’s own economist has estimated that the grouse habitat conservation efforts will cost Nevada $31 million and 493 jobs annually.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

Greater sage grouse (Forest Service photo)

10 comments on “Newspaper column: BLM sage grouse guidelines will bury land users in paperwork

  1. Patrick says:

    So, let me see if I got this straight, “doctor” Heck (presumably this doesn’t make him an expert on anything other than medicine) says the regulations and guidelines that a landowner makes, relating to how birds on it’s property are treated, are going to so heinously impact “our ranching and mining” families, that the landowner should change how it manages it’s property?

    I wonder if Newmont, a Canadian Corporation, which apparently also owns ranches in this country, is being counted by “doctor” Heck, as one of “our” “mining and ranching” families?

    If so, I wonder why I haven’t been receiving any “family” notifications from them, all these years, regarding “family” occasions? No birthday wishes, no Christmas cards, no wedding invitations, and definitely no gifts.

    Sounds like we need to disown them right quick.

    Pfft “ranching and mining family”…what a clown.

  2. The BLM…another enforcement arm of the executive branch of this “in your face” administration. And the leader of the BLM…the hand picked former Senior Advisor of our corrupt Senator Harry Reid.

  3. noodle35 says:

    I read your columns with great interest and thank you for keeping us up to date on happenings.


    Jim Gregory

  4. Reziac says:

    So… ravens and coyotes are the major predators of this supposedly endangered bird.

    What critters do ranchers tend to run out? Ravens and coyotes.

    Seems to me if the object is to preserve sage grouse, you want more ranchers using more land.

  5. bc says:

    The point you have missed is there is a lease between the landowner and the rancher, the landowner cannot just arbitrarily change the terms of the lease.

  6. Patrick says:

    Bc, I didn’t miss anything. The landowner in this case didn’t change the lease terms. Cause, no one is leasing that land

  7. Steve says:

    Ahh, ranchers don’t have to pay for using the land.
    Thanks for clearing that up, Patrick.

  8. Patrick says:

    So last month, California was responsible for 42% of all US job gains.

    I wonder if it’s the oppressive regulations, the near. “Communist” taxation, or the “liberal” anti-business, democratically dominated legislature and governor’s fault?

  9. Steve says:

    More likely, deep rooted; interdependent business’s are very difficult to uproot. Making them easy tax targets.
    And 42% of anemic gains is still anemic.

  10. […] this finding the Obama administration unilaterally instituted draconian land use restrictions across 10 Western states intended to prevent any presence of the non-native, invasive species known […]

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