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Questions and Answers on BLM's Directive on Sage-grouse Management

What is the purpose of the Instruction Memorandum (IM)?
The BLM Washington Office IM No. 2010-71 titled, “Gunnison and Greater Sage-grouse Management Considerations for Energy Development,” supplements the BLM’s 2004 National Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy by identifying new management considerations for authorization of renewable and nonrenewable energy development. The guidance identifies actions necessary at some sites to ensure environmentally responsible exploration, authorization, leasing and development of energy resources within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse and greater sage-grouse. 

How does this IM relate to the guidance issued by BLM-Wyoming and BLM-Montana?
Both the BLM Wyoming and Montana State Offices, in collaboration with their respective State fish and wildlife agencies, issued guidance in late 2009 pertaining to state-wide sage-grouse habitat management that is consistent with this IM. The remaining BLM State Offices are expected to issue similar policy in the future.
 
Are the greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse specially designated species?
The greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse are designated as BLM sensitive species, in accordance with the BLM’s special status species policy (BLM Manual 6840). The BLM manages sage-grouse to promote their conservation and to minimize the need for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
 
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife is expected to announce a final ESA determination on the Gunnison sage-grouse in June 2010. How is the BLM managing habitat for this species in the interim? 
The Gunnison sage-grouse is found today in both Colorado and Utah, and the BLM has been working with multiple stakeholders to implement conservation actions for that species. The BLM is incorporating conservation strategies into land use plan revisions and using them to prioritize local projects. These conservation plans have also laid the groundwork for future research needs related to the Gunnison sage-grouse. The BLM continues to work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State wildlife agencies, and private landowners in developing formal conservation agreements that will benefit the species and its habitat.
 
What is “priority” sage-grouse habitat?
Priority habitat is the habitat of highest conservation value relative to maintaining sustainable sage-grouse populations range-wide. Priority habitat will be areas of high quality habitat supporting important sage-grouse populations and/or sage-grouse populations vulnerable to localized extirpation, but necessary to maintain connectivity and genetic diversity.

What actions will the BLM take to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts of renewable and nonrenewable energy projects on priority sage-grouse habitat?
With regard to both nonrenewable and renewable energy development, the intent, when necessary to maintain sustainable sage-grouse populations, is to avoid priority sage-grouse habitat, or require that development not exceed established density thresholds. The BLM will make decisions supported by analysis completed under the National Environmental Policy Act and 1) alert the applicant as early as possible that the application may be denied, or 2) notify the applicant of terms and conditions that may be imposed to protect priority sage-grouse habitat.

How does the new guidance affect wind and solar energy development?
In accordance with the new policy, the BLM will screen new right-of way applications to identify whether the wind or solar energy development, site testing, or project area is within priority habitat. If so, the BLM will alert the applicant as early as possible that the application may be denied, or terms and conditions may be imposed on the right-of-way grant to protect priority sage-grouse habitat as supported by NEPA analysis.

What efforts are being made by the BLM to gain information regarding the impacts of wind energy development on sage-grouse?
The BLM is a participating member in the Sage-Grouse and Wind Energy Collaborative, a consortium of Federal and State agencies, NGOs, and industry working together to develop a standardized research protocol for studying the impacts of wind energy development on sage-grouse. The consortium aims to better understand tolerance thresholds to wind energy development, and to propose appropriate wind energy development minimization and mitigation measures.

Will implementation of the IM slow down the development of nonrenewable energy?
The policy allows for more protective measures to be applied at the permitting stage for oil and gas exploration, but because our Field Offices are building on conservation efforts already underway, I don’t anticipate significant change in this area as a result of the policy.

Does the policy add additional layers of review? 
Not necessarily, but the BLM will take the time needed to make careful project-related decisions supported by analysis completed under the National Environmental Policy Act.

What significant, specific changes does this national policy bring to the BLM’s management of sustainable sage-grouse populations and their key habitats?
1. This IM supplements the BLM’s 2004 National Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy and identifies management actions necessary at some sites to ensure environmentally responsible exploration, authorization, leasing, and development of renewable and nonrenewable energy resources within the range of Gunnison sage-grouse and greater sage-grouse.
 
2. For any proposed project-specific actions, the BLM will make decisions supported by full environmental analysis completed under the National Environmental Policy Act and 1) alert the applicant as early as possible that the application may be denied, or 2) notify the applicant of terms and conditions that may be imposed to protect priority sage-grouse habitat.
 
3. The IM allows land managers to analyze an alternative or alternatives that would exclude priority habitat from renewable and/or nonrenewable energy development and transmission projects in resource management plan revisions and amendments.
 
4. Working together to protect sage-grouse, the BLM is coordinating with State fish and wildlife agencies and their Sage and Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Technical Committee in the development of a range-wide key habitat map. This range-wide key habitat mapping project, which is not intended to replace individual State fish and wildlife agency core habitat maps, will identify priority habitat for sage-grouse within each of the western states and reflect this across the known range of sage-grouse.