Which allotments are included in Group 1?
:: Garat, Castlehead-Lambert, Swisher Springs and Swisher Fenced Federal Range (FFR)
Why is the BLM doing this environmental assessment (EA)?
:: The EA is part of the BLM’s effort to meet the terms of a stipulated settlement agreement (SSA) approved by U.S. District Court of Idaho in May 2008, which directs the BLM to conduct environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of applications to renew grazing permits associated with 75 allotments in the Owyhee Field Office. NEPA analysis will assist the Owyhee Field Manager in making informed decisions about renewing these permits, by enhancing understanding of the environmental consequences of authorizing various levels of grazing.
Why are the Group 1 permit renewals being addressed in an EA and not an EIS (environmental impact statement)?
:: The BLM believes that an EA is the most efficient and effective way of analyzing these four permit renewals while meeting its legal and regulatory obligations as steward of the public lands in these allotments. If while completing the EA, the BLM determines that the potential effects of renewing the permits would likely be significant, the EA would transition into an EIS.
Why are these four permit renewals analyzed in a single EA?
:: These four allotments are similar geographically and ecologically, which makes it sensible administratively and scientifically to consider them in one NEPA document.
What does the EA analyze?
:: Based on information collected during scoping, the EA explores the relationship among authorized livestock grazing, rangeland health, other uses of the lands in the allotments, natural events like wildfires, and other factors identified during scoping. Under its multiple use mandate, the BLM analyzes all land uses and their impacts in relationship to each other and on affected resources.
What issues are addressed in the analysis?
:: The EA examines the condition of riparian vegetation in each of the four allotments, conditions in upland areas and in the broader watershed; the condition of sage-grouse habitat found in and near the allotments; the presence of invasive species, juniper encroachment, potential impacts of trailing, and various dimensions of grazing management. These factors are considered in the framework of the Idaho Standards for Rangeland Health – whether these Standards are being met or whether significant progress toward meeting them is being made.
In what ways is the public involved in the decisions on these permit renewals?
:: The BLM highly values and relies on public input and involvement when developing information for any resource management decision. Anyone with an interest was invited to submit comments during scoping for the EA (Jan. 31-Feb. 29, 2012). All comments on the EA are similarly encouraged and welcome. Decisions on these permit renewals support overall goals and objectives established in the 1999 Owyhee Resource Management Plan (RMP), which was developed with extensive public involvement. More generally, the Rangeland Health Standards that are the basis for the resource objectives in the EA were developed with public involvement through the BLM’s resource advisory councils (RACs).
What various alternatives are analyzed?
:: There are five alternatives, ranging from No Action (Alt. 1) to No Grazing (Alt. 5). Alternative 1 provides a baseline along which to compare environmental effects of the other alternatives and so represents continuation of actions that have led to current conditions. Alternative 5 is one of the reasonable alternatives the BLM is required to analyze for meeting the purpose and need for authorizing grazing. Alternative 2 is the applicants’ proposed action: renewing the permits at the stocking levels applicants have proposed.
Alternative 3 is called the Performance-Based Alternative. It incorporates monitoring and adaptive management that have proven to be successful on other allotments in the Owyhee Field Office, along with terms and conditions that would allow for improving sage-grouse habitat in addition to meeting rangeland health standards. Alternative 4, the Season-Based Alternative, would limit livestock grazing during important periods in the sage-grouse life-cycle.
How does the EA incorporate current BLM policy for analyzing impacts to sage-grouse?
:: The EA incorporates available site information collected using the Sage-grouse Habitat Assessment Framework in evaluations of current resource conditions. The alternatives incorporate grazing management practices designed to keep adequate residual plant cover and understory diversity, and changes in season-of-use in meadows, mesic habitats and riparian pastures to conserve forbs, and in pastures that contain priority habitat during spring nesting periods.
Is sage-grouse habitat the only wildlife resource considered in the EA?
:: No. The analysis for the Garat allotment looks at potential impacts to Davis peppergrass in playa areas, and improvements in sagebrush habitats that immediately address sage-grouse concerns will also benefit other species known to inhabit these allotments: pygmy rabbits, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, kit fox, Piute ground squirrel, Wyoming ground squirrel, coyote, dark kangaroo mouse, and others.
Which alternatives are “sage-grouse friendly”?
:: Alternatives 3, 4 and 5 either actively or passively conserve, enhance or restore sage-grouse habitat within the allotments. Speaking more broadly, any action toward meeting rangeland health standards supports conservation and restoration of sage-grouse habitat.
Why don't you just wait until regional sage-grouse planning is complete to address those habitat issues for these allotments?
:: Under the terms of the 2008 settlement agreement, the BLM must finish processing these permit renewal applications by December 2013 – a year before the sage-grouse plan amendments are scheduled to be completed. By adhering closely to the interim policy for sage-grouse management when preparing these EAs, the BLM expects not to have to re-visit decisions on these permits after regional sage-grouse planning is done. The goal is to provide permittees and other interested parties with clarity and predictability regarding activities and expectations for the lands in these allotments.
Do any of the alternatives call for an increase in grazing levels?
:: Alternative 2, the Applicant-Proposed Action, proposes an increase in active AUMs on the Castlehead-Lambert and Garat allotments.
Alternative 3 would involve no change in AUM levels on any of the allotments. How can conditions be expected to improve under this scenario?
:: The performance-based criteria in Alternative 3 are designed to address meeting/making significant progress toward meeting rangeland conditions identified as concerns in the 2012 assessments and evaluations for these allotments, with no reductions in current authorized active use. In the event that any of the criteria are not met in any 2 consecutive years out of 5, the grazing permit would be modified. Modification could include adjustments to use-intensities or AUM levels.
How were the AUM and cattle numbers in Alternative 4 derived?
:: Under ideal conditions and maximizing livestock use of forage, approximately 4.9 acres would be required to support one AUM in a normal year in these allotments. At this time, ideal conditions are not present, and management objectives set for these lands in the Owyhee RMP limit livestock use of forage to 50%. A stocking rate of 10 acres per AUM was identified as being most appropriate for these allotments to achieve desired conditions with the seasonal limitations included for sage-grouse conservation purposes.
What happens next?
:: Publication of the EA begins a 30-day public review period during which the BLM is accepting comments on the analysis and range of alternatives in the EA. After this period closes, the BLM will review and consider all comments received and modify the EA if necessary before completing a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The FONSI will be the basis for proposed grazing decisions to be signed by the BLM Owyhee Field Manager.
And after the EA and FONSI are completed?
:: The Owyhee Field Manager will sign the FONSI and proposed grazing decisions for the allotments. These will be published on the BLM website, and the proposed grazing decisions will be mailed to the applicants. If a decision selects an alternative that renews the grazing permit for a particular allotment, a permit for up to a 10-year term will be offered to the respective applicant. Completing the EA and issuing a final decision will meet the terms of the 2008 SSA for these four allotments (see Qu. 2 above).