BLM issues Grouse FEIS

BLM issued its final environmental impact statement for the greater sage grouse on December 6, 2018.

Here is our take::

It really will dismantle one of the nation’s largest land conservation plans created by a coalition of bipartisan Western governors, oil and gas industry members, conservationists, ranchers and wildlife lovers. That coalition and Governor Hickenlooper had worked diligently for many years culminating in 2015 with a common-sense approach to protect the imperiled greater sage grouse and 350 other plant and wildlife species that depend on a healthy sagebrush ecosystem.

The FEIS (final environmental impact statement) will open more public lands for leasing and allowing waivers for oil and gas drilling. Here in Colorado, more than 224 thousand acres of land that had been protected will now be open for development.

Most troubling in the Colorado plan is the new role that counties will have to recommend waivers or modifications to the critical “no surface occupancy” leasing stipulation within one mile from active leks. It means that drilling could be permitted to happen near the fragile breeding grounds of sage grouse. The new plan also eliminates requirements on the oil and gas companies to compensate off-site for any damages except voluntarily within a state mitigation plan.

The Colorado plan takes away the power and protections of the BLM and means Colorado Parks and Wildlife will have to engage fully and firmly– parcel by parcel– to protect this priority habitat. Such a patchwork approach will make comprehensive conservation planning nearly impossible.

Not only do these actions have dire consequences for the greater sage grouse, its habitat and hundreds of other animal and plant species, but it will have a direct impact on anyone who enjoys Colorado’s public lands for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

Sportsmen and women and wildlife advocates understand the health of sage grouse populations is a barometer of the overall health of the sagebrush steppe and many other species, including mule deer, pronghorn and golden eagles. If this new plan is allowed to go forward, some of Colorado’s most critical habitats will be compromised for generations to come.

As background —

BLM issued draft environmental impact statements on May 2 to amend its 2015 greater sage grouse plans. The drafts were issued for each of these including Colorado. We had hoped that the 2015 Colorado plan would remain largely intact, recognizing that likely there would be some tweeking. The 2015 plan was developed through collaboration among federal, state and local governments, conservation organizations, agriculture and industry. the plan “clarifies” mitigation requirements.

Here are the points we had made during the process: Keep strong standards for enforcing “no surface occupancy” and other protections from oil and gas leasing and development in greater sage grouse habitat. Ensuring that the least amount of ground is disturbed means less habitat is destroyed and a stronger chance for grouse to continue to use an area slated for development.The BLM should honor the state’s commitment to ensure damage to habitat is limited and, where damage cannot be avoided, that grouse habitat is restored or other habitat is improved or acquired. BLM has an obligation to avoid and mitigate harm to wildlife from energy development and other activities in grouse habitat. BLM should ot make changes to the Colorado plan beyond those supported by the state and stakeholders