BLM plan for sage-grouse conservation draws criticism from Utah lawmakers

Posted at 10:13 PM, May 29, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Federal Bureau of Land Management released details on their new strategy to save the sage-grouse population, and the plan will impact how tens of millions of acres of land in the west will be handled, which is why many state officials feel it should be left up to the states.

In 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service identified the sage-grouse as a species that should be considered for the threatened or endangered species list, and the western states went to work drafting plans to prevent that from happening. Now, the federal government is going ahead with its own plan and Utah lawmakers--like Representative Rob Bishop, who represents Utah’s First Congressional District--are feeling steamrolled.

“What this has done is simply superseded that, cut out all of the efforts they have done, come up with an overriding plan that is not about saving the bird, it's about controlling the land; it’s a terrible idea," Bishop said.

Allison Jones with the Wild Utah Project also weighed-in, saying change was needed.

“Business as usual on BLM land up till now hasn't been good enough to keep the populations from sliding and to keep a non-warranted decision from happening,” Jones said.

Jones said the greater sage-grouse land use strategy calls for some buffers--up to 4 miles around the mating grounds. The plan also identifies core areas, which are called priority habitat areas.

“The idea is to not lease or drill for new oil and gas, for example, within those buffers," Jones said.

But Bishop said he finds plenty wrong with the plan and thinks the state’s should have control regarding the issue.

“It’s just a very broad, basic approach that’s not based on any sound science, as Utah's plan is," Bishop said.

Bishop and other state legislators feel the federal plan is just about control, which Jones says can’t be the case because the federal government stands to lose time and money if its plan fails.

“I can assure you from reading everything and knowing the science and reading the conservation objective team’s report that these plans are based on and the BLM’s own report: All of the science is in there, they’re following the science,” Jones said.

Bishop is not optimistic, however.

“If you put this federal plan into effect, it will fail,” he said. “It won’t help the bird, and we will fail.”

The state plans to fight the BLM’s plan with legislation, but jones said that money would be better spent on the issue itself--preserving the sage-grouse.

“We really think we’re doing the right thing for sage–grouse in Utah,” Jones said. “If we don’t think we are, then that makes it tempting to do that type of backdoor lobby in D.C. for a political fix.”

For more details on the BLM plan, click here.