Frequently Asked Questions

 What is your timeline?

What is the BLM National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy?

Why is a new planning approach needed?

What is your range of alternatives?

What are you doing to protect Greater Sage-Grouse and their habitat in the interim?

How does BLM’s approach to Greater Sage-Grouse conservation align public land management with private land conservation benefits provided by NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI)?

What about the two sub-populations, the Washington State Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and “bi-state” DPS, of the Greater Sage-Grouse? Will they be included in this new Strategy?

Is the Gunnison Sage-Grouse a part of this planning strategy?

Does hunting Greater Sage-Grouse pose a threat to the species?

The Fish and Wildlife Service identified wildland fire as one of the major threats to the Greater Sage-Grouse.  What is the BLM doing about wildland fire in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat?

How much Greater Sage-Grouse habitat was damaged by wildfire in 2012?

What is the BLM doing to address the damage to Greater Sage-Grouse habitat due to wildfires in 2012?

What is the National Technical Team (NTT) Report?

How are the BLM and the Forest Service using the NTT Report?

How are the BLM and Forest Service ensuring that the NTT Report is consistently applied and interpreted?

What is the Conservation Objectives Team (COT)?
 
What is the COT Report?
  
How is the NTT different from the COT Report?

How will BLM and the Forest Service use the COT report?

What is the Baseline Environmental Report?

Why are you unwilling to extend the 90-day comment period for draft Greater Sage-Grouse NEPA documents?

Can I still comment on the draft Greater Sage-Grouse NEPA documents after the comment period closes?

How is the BLM using Rapid Ecoregional Assessments (REAs) in its Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Efforts?

What is your timeline?

Given the tight time frames in which the Fish and Wildlife Service must make its listing decision, it’s crucial that we get this done right and done quickly. The release of the Draft EIS for each state is a culmination of many months of public scoping, agency coordination, and planning efforts. The following table summarizes the timeline of the overall effort:

Action
Date
Notice of Intent Published in Federal Register
December 2011
60-Day Scoping Period
December 2011 to February 2012
90-Day Draft EIS Public Comment Periods
Drafts were released as they were completed. All draft EIS public comment periods are now closed.
Publish Final EIS & Proposed RMP Amendment
Summer 2014
Issue Record of Decision & Approved Resource Management Plan Amendment
Winter 2014

What is the BLM National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy?

The BLM National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy provides a coordinated, cooperative stakeholder team approach to incorporate regionally appropriate, science-based conservation measures into BLM land-use planning efforts throughout the range of the Greater Sage-Grouse. In addition, the United States Forest Service is working with the BLM to amend 20 Forest and National Grassland management plans as a formal cooperator in this planning process.

Greater Sage-Grouse benefit from, and make use of, suitable habitat—regardless of land ownership and management responsibility, so the BLM planning strategy uses an open and collaborative approach to foster cooperative conservation efforts across the regions and states that make up the Greater Sage-Grouse range.

The planning strategy illustrates the BLM’s continued commitment to long-term, range-wide Greater Sage-Grouse conservation and habitat restoration and acknowledges the added value of engaging all stakeholders and governmental partners in cooperative conservation efforts.

Why is a new planning approach needed?

In April 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that the Greater Sage-Grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but that listing the species was precluded by the need to address other, higher-priority species first. One reason for the FWS decision was an identified need for “improved regulatory mechanisms” to ensure species conservation. The principal regulatory mechanisms for BLM are Resource Management Plans (RMPs).

The FWS Greater Sage-Grouse decision placed the species on the candidate list for future regulatory action, which provided stakeholders such as federal agencies, states, tribes and private landowners with additional opportunities to continue working cooperatively to conserve the species and restore its habitat. BLM is also using this opportunity to develop long-term conservation and habitat restoration measures and actions for the species on the National System of Public Lands.  Because of a court-ordered settlement, the FWS has until 2015 to make a final determination on listing the Greater Sage-Grouse under the ESA.

What is your range of alternatives?

The BLM and the Forest Service are developing a range of alternatives for their EISs that is specifically structured to identify and incorporate appropriate conservation measures to conserve, enhance or restore Greater Sage-Grouse habitat by reducing, eliminating, or minimizing threats to that habitat.  Each regional effort is developing and analyzing its own set of alternatives. All of the planning efforts, however, have been directed to analyze the following alternatives where appropriate:

• A “no-action" alternative analyzing the existing management direction set for Greater Sage- Grouse conservation.
• An alternative which contains all the applicable and appropriate conservation measures that were developed in the National Technical Team’s 2011 Report (NTT Report).
• An alternative which analyzes state-proposed conservation strategies.  As part of their alternative submission, states provided the BLM with GIS data depicting their preferred Preliminary Priority Habitat (PPH) and Preliminary General Habitat (PGH) areas, conservation measures that should be applied to these areas, and rationale as to why their measures deviate from those outlined in the NTT Report.
• One or more alternatives which consolidate suggestions made by non-governmental organizations during the scoping process.  These suggestions generally propose more stringent management. 
• An alternative which considers sub-regional adjustments to the recommendations of the NTT Report.  This would allow the sub-regions to make changes to the recommendations from the NTT Report and adjust habitat boundaries based on science, resource trade-offs, scoping comments, and internal staff expertise.
• Each sub-region also has the option to develop additional options for consideration that do not apply to other sub-regional efforts.

The identification of a preferred alternative does not constitute a commitment or decision in principle, and there is no requirement to select the preferred alternative or any of the separate individual alternatives as they are presented in the Draft within the ROD. The BLM has the discretion to select any of the alternatives as the agency’s preferred alternative and can modify the preferred alternative between the Draft EIS and the Final EIS, as long as the actions presented in the proposed alternative within the PRMP Amendment / Final EIS  are analyzed somewhere in the previous Draft EIS.  Various parts of the separate alternatives that are analyzed in the draft can be “mixed and matched” to develop a complete alternative in the final, as long as the reasons for doing so are explained (40 CFR 1506.2(b)).

In cases where the BLM’s  Resource Management Plans are undergoing revision concurrent with the BLM’s Greater Sage-Grouse Planning efforts, each RMP revision will consider and evaluate the conservation measures discussed in the NTT report in one or more alternatives.  The alternatives analyzed in these revisions must also address topics, such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and grazing, that were raised during the public scoping process.

What are you doing to protect Greater Sage-Grouse and their habitat in the interim?

While this extensive planning process is underway, the BLM and the Forest Service have also developed conservation measures and policy direction for the interim protection of sagebrush habitat. These measures will help the BLM and Forest Service offices determine whether to authorize or continue certain activities in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat. They are designed to ensure that Greater Sage-Grouse populations and habitats are maintained or improved and that habitat loss is minimized.

How does BLM’s approach to Greater Sage-Grouse conservation align public land management with private land conservation benefits provided by NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI)?

The BLM’s new policy facilitates closer integration of Greater Sage-Grouse conservation between these two Federal Agencies The Greater Sage-Grouse Breeding Bird Density maps, produced by BLM, provide NRCS with an efficient mechanism for targeting Farm Bill resources to benefit birds through the USDA’s Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI). Although most of the Sage Grouse Initiative funds are invested on private lands, they can also be used to implement conservation measures on the BLM’s public grazing lands. Match requirements that can be paid by Non-Governmental Organizations, provide yet another innovative opportunity to expand partnerships regardless of ownership. Working proactively, regardless of administrative boundaries, will result in conservation to benefit Greater Sage-Grouse across their range.

What about the two sub-populations, the Washington State Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and “bi-state” DPS, of the Greater Sage-grouse? Will they be included in this new Strategy?

No. Greater Sage-Grouse in Washington have been managed under a specific Washington Greater Sage-Grouse Recovery Plan since 2004. BLM has limited involvement in the Washington State DPS and only manages about 5 percent of the remaining habitat for this population. The “bi-state” DPS exists in a small area in California and Nevada. It is being addressed by the FWS with different timeframes and processes.

Is the Gunnison Sage-Grouse a part of this planning strategy?

No. The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is not included in this National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy. It is a separate species. The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is being addressed by the Rangewide Conservation Plan (RCP) developed by an interagency steering committee and signed in April 2005. It includes a suite of conservation strategies designed to address localized and range-wide threats to the species, and has been used to help design projects and management strategies within its habitat.

Does hunting Greater Sage-Grouse pose a threat to the species?

In its March 2010 warranted but precluded finding on listing the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) specifically looked at the threats to the species posed by hunting. The FWS found that “In the United States, sage-grouse hunting is regulated by State wildlife agencies and hunting regulations are reevaluated yearly. … We have no evidence suggesting that gun and bow sport hunting has been a primary cause of range-wide declines of the greater sage-grouse in the past, or that it currently is at a level that poses a significant threat to the species. … continued close attention will be needed by States and tribes to carefully manage hunting mortality, including adjusting seasons and allowable harvest levels, and imposing emergency closures if needed. In sum, we find that this threat is not significant to the species such that it causes the species to warrant listing under the Act.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service identified wildland fire as one of the major threats to the Greater Sage-Grouse.  What is the BLM doing about wildland fire in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat?

Wildfires are a leading cause of sagebrush habitat loss, and the BLM is addressing the effects of wildland fire on Greater Sage-Grouse habitat by taking appropriate action before and during wildfires.  BLM’s aim is to limit the damage from unwanted wildfires in sagebrush habitat by thorough planning before a fire, prompt action during the fire, and effective rehabilitation of a burned area after the fire.  To learn more about what BLM is doing to address wildfire in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, click here.  For more details on BLM’s wildland firefighting policy in Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, read our Instructional Memorandum here.

How much Greater Sage-Grouse habitat was damaged by wildfire in 2012?

Although the fire season over the past few years has been relatively quiet, the 2012 fire season was quite active.   As of the end of 2012, 1.2 percent of the Greater Sage-Grouse’s PGH and 2.7 percent of the species’ PPH was burned.

What is the BLM doing to address the damage to Greater Sage-Grouse habitat due to wildfires in 2012?

In September 2012, BLM completed a $23 million seed buy to begin rehabilitating the western lands that were burned in the 2012 fire season. A substantial portion of that seed will be dedicated to restoration work on the Long Draw, the biggest wild fire in Oregon in more than a century.  This seed will be used to rehabilitate areas with approved post-fire rehabilitation plans.  We hope to take advantage of any late fall, winter or early spring moisture in reestablishing stable plant communities in the burned areas of the west.  We plan to conduct aerial seeding of sagebrush during the winter months.  Given past experience it might take up to 20 years to reestablish a thriving Greater Sage-Grouse community.  Biological studies suggest it might take even more time for Greater Sage-Grouse to return to a burned-over area.

The BLM’s fire rehabilitation program’s first preference is to purchase and use of native species, although we do use non-natives as well, depending on site characteristics and seed availability.  We work with our partners, particularly in the state fish and wildlife agencies in selecting the seed mixes we use.

We conduct our restoration efforts with both short- and long-term restoration goals in mind.  Over the short-term, we work to:
• Prevent invasive annual grasses and noxious weeds from colonizing the burned areas;
• Address the loss of soil due to wind and water erosion; and
• Reduce potential dust and flooding hazards due to the loss of vegetation holding soil and water.

Over the long term, our goals are to: 
• Reestablish native species; and
• Recover important habitat and healthy lands.

What is the National Technical Team (NTT) Report?

As part of its Greater Sage-Grouse conservation efforts, the BLM convened a National Technical Team (NTT).  This team was composed of representatives from the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and State Fish and Wildlife agencies.  The team was charged with ensuring that relevant science on Greater Sage-Grouse conservation was considered, reasonably interpreted and accurately presented, with risks and uncertainties clearly delineated; providing conservation objectives in measurable terms to guide planning; and identifying science-based conservation measures.

The NTT prepared a report that fulfilled this charge at the end of calendar year 2011.  The report and its associated conservation measures are not intended to create a standard for Greater Sage-Grouse management. Rather the goal of the report is to provide a resource for BLM and Forest Service field personnel to use, as appropriate, in addressing on-the-ground conditions through the planning process.

How are the BLM and the Forest Service using the NTT Report?

The BLM released the NTT Report to its State and Field Offices along with instructions that clarify how to address the NTT Report's conservation measures in the Bureau's land use planning process.  The U.S. Forest Service is issuing similar instructions.

These instructions establish consistent protection measures for the species and its habitat that will be analyzed in one or more alternatives in the Environmental Impact Statements that will be used to amend the BLM’s Resource Management Plans and the U.S. Forest Service’s Land and Resource Management Plans.

Greater Sage-Grouse range across eleven western states and the specific habitat conditions as well as threats to the habitat vary significantly across that range.  The NTT Report made general recommendations about Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, based on the best available science, recognizing that land managers and biologists will have to tailor decisions protective of Greater Sage-Grouse to the specific habitat conditions and circumstances in their area.  Therefore, we anticipate that BLM and Forest Service personnel will make appropriate adjustments to address regional and local ecological variability with robust justifications for measures that vary from the NTT recommendations. While the report's goals and objectives provide a general guiding philosophy, each planning effort will identify goals and objectives specific to each distinct planning area.

How are the BLM and U.S. Forest Service ensuring that the NTT Report is consistently applied and interpreted?

The BLM hosted several internal training sessions and meetings to ensure our employees and partners consistently interpret the report.  The BLM also hosted a webinar on April 17, 2012, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service to clarify the NTT Report and provide information on other critical coordination aspects of this significant planning effort.

The BLM believes that no single set of conservation objectives will apply across the entire multi-state range, or in some cases even within the area of a single state. Greater Sage-Grouse conservation needs to occur on a local scale supported by the best available science.

What is the Conservation Objectives Team (COT)? 

The FWS wanted to work in advance of its 2015 listing decision to develop conservation objectives for the Greater Sage-Grouse that could help direct conservation actions for the species.  The FWS created a Conservation Objectives Team (COT) of State experts and FWS representatives to accomplish this task.

What is the COT Report? 
   
The COT Report identifies key areas for Greater Sage-Grouse, key threats in those areas, and the extent to which they need to be reduced in order for the species to be conserved and for the FWS to determine that listing is not warranted.

How is the BLM’s National Technical Team (NTT) Report different from the COT Report? 

The COT report establishes conservation objectives for the primary habitat threats identified in the March 2010 FWS finding that listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse was warranted but precluded.  Those objectives could be met through local planning efforts, BLM/Forest Service planning efforts, and State efforts.

In contrast, BLM's NTT report provides habitat management recommendations for species across its entire range.

The two efforts should be used together:  the FWS’s COT identifies the threats to be addressed to meet overall conservation objectives, and BLM’s NTT report provides management recommendations that could be implemented to address the threats.  Because the range of the species is so large, and local ecological conditions vary, it is possible that local management decisions may differ from the specific standards in the NTT report.  If the local plan decisions vary from the NTT report, the differences will be justified by scientific or local information.
 
How will BLM and the Forest Service use the COT report? 

The COT report provides overarching objectives relative to the threats operating on Greater Sage-Grouse in important or key areas throughout its range.  The BLM and the Forest Service will use these objectives to guide their decisions about the different alternatives they analyze as part of the public planning process such that, in the end, the sum of all of the federal land planning efforts will contribute to conservation of the species.

What is the Baseline Environmental Report?

The Baseline Environmental Report (BER) will assist the BLM in summarizing the effect of its planning efforts at a range-wide scale.  The BER consolidates range-wide information useful for planning products.  Its main purpose is to assist in the “Describing the Affected Environment” portion of the cumulative impacts analysis.  The data for this report were gathered from both internal (BLM and U.S. Forest Service) and external sources beginning in August, 2011. All data, both internal and external, were the "best available" at the range-wide scale at the time collected.  However, after the conclusion of the 2012 Fire Season the wildland fire statistics were updated.  This data has been assembled by the BLM and partners and the report was peer reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The BER looks at each of the threats to Greater Sage-Grouse identified in the FWS’s “warranted but precluded” listing finding for the species.  For these threats, the report summarizes the current scientific understanding of various impacts to Greater Sage-Grouse populations and habitats.  The report also covers the location, magnitude, and extent of each threat.  Summary statistics are reported by WAFWA Management Zone in the BER. Theses collected data and will be used in the planning process to describe threats at other levels, such as subregion, statewide, BLM Land Use Planning, and National Forest boundary.

Unlike the NTT Report, which is already being analyzed as part of the BLM/USFS Greater Sage-Grouse Planning process, the BER does not provide management recommendations.  The BER is intended to provide  a starting point for considering potential implications and management options, and ultimately provides data and information to show how different alternatives may meet specific plans, goals and objectives.

Each individual planning document will also incorporate much finer-scaled data to address the issues that are pertinent to their area.  Local ecological conditions will be considered in the design of the strategies used to address Greater Sage-Grouse conservation objectives.

Why are you unwilling to extend the 90-day comment period for draft Greater Sage-Grouse NEPA documents?

When we announced our National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy in 2011, we made it clear that we would be working under a very restricted time schedule in order to meet the court-ordered Endangered Species Act listing decision deadline the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must meet.  At that time, we laid out an ambitious schedule.  We remain committed to maintaining that schedule.  The existing deadlines do not allow us the flexibility of extending comment periods; given the large number of plans we must address delays in any one area can negatively affect our ability to complete other plans in a timely manner. We recognize that much is at stake in the sagebrush habitat across the West, including energy development, recreation, livestock grazing and fire management.  We will continue to incorporate the most current information we have available as we write our Greater Sage-Grouse planning documents.   We remain committed to implementing the right policies and conservation measures now that will reduce long-term regulatory burdens on our stakeholders and to addressing the threats posed to the species so we can, ideally, eliminate the need to list the species under the ESA. 

Can I still comment on the draft Greater Sage-Grouse NEPA documents after the comment period closes?

The BLM will consider substantive and timely filed comments and respond to them in the Final EISs. All substantive comments received after the 90-day draft comment period and before a final decision is made will be considered to the extent feasible.

How is the BLM using Rapid Ecoregional Assessments (REAs) in its Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Efforts?

The BLM has initiated several REAs, assessments aimed at sustaining the health and productivity of America’s public lands, across the western United States.  REAs are designed to increase our knowledge and understanding of our natural resources and to establish baseline conditions needed to assess changes in conditions over time.  As the REAs are completed and the data used to assemble them is released, the relevant information they contain is being integrated into the BLM’s Greater Sage-Grouse planning documents.

 


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MAPS and GRAPHICS

Planning Strategy Boundaries Map

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See the strategy boundaries »
 

Greater Sage-grouse Breeding Densities Map

Breeding density thumbnail graphic
See where the Greater-sage Grouse are found »
 
The BLM and Sage-grouse
BLM Planning Units and Sage-Grouce Occurrence map thumbnail
Where the BLM and Sage-grouse overlap »