New Guidelines Upheld for Sage Grouse in Wyoming
The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) supported new temporary guidelines to protect sage grouse from oil and gas development, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. The guidelines were created by the Buffalo, Wyoming, field office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM).
The proposed changes, released in August, increase the buffer around sage grouse breeding areas in parts of the Powder River Basin. Energy companies challenged the guidelines, claiming they were unwarranted and not based on science. The IBLA’s ruling in early November will allow the BLM to operate using the new protections until the office revises its Resource Management Plan.
The new Wyoming guidelines increase the buffer from two miles to three miles between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., from March to July, in designated sage grouse focus areas. The focus areas generally line up with a map of “core” sage grouse areas – important nesting or breeding grounds – identified in a sage grouse management plan called for by Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal. The focus areas protected by the BLM’s new guidelines cover about 1 million acres of public lands within the Powder River Basin, where well pads will now be restricted to 1 per 640 acres (one square mile).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is expected to determine if sage grouse should be listed under the Endangered Species Act by the end of the year. In 2005, the agency determined petitions to list the sage grouse as endangered were “not warranted.” That decision was ruled arbitrary and capricious by a federal judge in December 2007, requiring the FWS to review its listing decision.
In an effort to keep the bird off the list, Freudenthal convened a working group on sage grouse to outline management strategies that would reduce impacts on the birds. The plan recommended by the panel was codified by Governor Freudenthal in an August executive order, but it affected only state agencies. The BLM committed to work collaboratively with the state plan, and the new buffer requirements help bring federal activities in line with the state plan.
“We are heartened by these revised grouse protections, which are based on new information and current science,” said North American Grouse Partnership Executive Director Ralph Rogers. “We are encouraged by the IBLA ruling affirming both the adequacy of this science and the BLM’s authority to adapt protections during energy development, even after leases are sold, to conserve sage grouse. Although these new guidelines apply only to lands administered by the Buffalo office, the IBLA ruling has broader applicability to all grouse habitat. We hope that all BLM and Forest Service offices will adopt better protective actions for grouse species found on our federal public lands.” (jas)
--Wildlife Management Institute