Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to reverse the Obama Administration’s sagebrush habitat guidance impacting sage grouse is winning praise from top Western lawmakers.

“We welcome Interior’s willingness to move towards a common-sense modification which will better protect the sagebrush habitat for the grouse,” a spokesperson for the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources told Western Wire.  “We are pleased that Department of Interior (DOI) has taken into consideration what many of the states have been doing with their habitat conservation plans in crafting the modification in last week’s announcement.”

The latest move by BLM is “in response to concerns raised by states, local partners and our own field staff,” said Brian Steed, BLM’s Deputy Director for Programs and Policy. The “Instruction Memorandum” (IM) issued by BLM establishes that the agency “does not need to lease and develop outside of habitat management areas before considering any leasing and development within habitat.”

Western officials have warmly welcomed BLM efforts under the Trump Administration to both listen to and address issues raised by state and local representatives regarding Obama-era sage grouse management policies.

The BLM noted that the memos were developed in consultation with Governors’ offices in 11 Western states and will build on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s secretarial order last June which directed a review of greater sage grouse plans and policies.  The BLM emphasized that the new policy will bring more clarity to the issue.

“Generally, these IMs recognize that best data often lies with the states and local governments,” Kent Holsinger, a Denver-based attorney specializing in land and water law, told Western Wire. “Congress has established that federal lands are to be managed for multiple uses.  Elevating a single species above recreation, agriculture or energy development is not only unwise—but unlawful,” Holsinger said.

Top western lawmakers continue to emphasize the importance of listening to state concerns regarding sage grouse management.

In a December 2017 letter to Secretary Zinke, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), noted that states have taken on their own responsibilities in preserving the sage grouse habitat, highlighting efforts in his home state of Wyoming.

“Wyoming has worked to address the true causes of harm to sage grouse and their habitat, as well as promote innovative tools to improve future populations,” he wrote. “As evidenced in conservation of other species unique to Wyoming and our range, our state continues to explore novel and potentially important approaches like the Wyoming state mitigation framework, captive breeding, and creative application of emerging technologies.”