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United States Department of the Interior
Montana State Office
5001 Southgate Drive
Billings, Montana 59101-4669

November 30, 2009

6500 (MT9230) P                                      
Instruction Memorandum No. MT-2010-017
Expires: 9/30/2011
To:             Leadership Advisory Team
From:         State Director
Subject:      Guidance for Greater Sage-Grouse Management and Conservation in Resource Management Plan (RMP) Revisions in Management Zones 1 and 2 Within the Montana/Dakotas BLM
Program Area: All programs
Purpose: This Instruction Memorandum (IM) provides guidance to Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota BLM field offices on sage-grouse management to provide consistency across BLM planning units in sage-grouse Management Zones 1 and 2. Coordination is intended to provide more consistency between the scale of BLM management actions and the large extent over which sage-grouse use their environment.
Policy/Action: For ongoing and future RMP revisions, Montana/Dakotas BLM field offices should use the attached guidance to develop alternatives and analyze impacts of the alternatives on Greater Sage-Grouse.  
In addition to using the conservation principles presented herein for RMPs, field offices should use this guidance to help mitigate impacts and guide best management practices for all proposed projects and activities. This applies to any action with potential surface disturbing and/or disruptive activity within sage-grouse habitat. In determining the objectives for sage-grouse habitat and populations, consideration should be given to whether the project is located in a sage-grouse BLM Key or Montana Core area, existing rights, and ongoing development in the area. Then stipulations and restrictions evaluated in the different alternatives can be selected from the examples for priority, restoration, or general habitat areas.  Projects should analyze restrictions on the distance surface disturbing activities and surface occupying activities take place relative to leks, noise levels and disruptive activity near and around the lek during the breeding season, surface disturbing and/or disruptive activities during the nesting and brood rearing season in appropriate habitats, and surface disturbing and/or disruptive activities in the winter season in appropriate habitat. 
A template for goals and objectives and alternatives for sage-grouse management using Protection Priority Areas, Restoration Priority Areas, and General Habitat Areas (Attachment 1) is to be used as a framework for consistency between RMPs in the Montana/Dakotas organization for Management Zones 1 and 2. These tools allow for the flexibility to incorporate site-specific criteria, resource conditions, and resource use restrictions and exclusions by RMP. Resource use restrictions and exclusions should be applied consistently to all surface disturbing and disruptive activities. Restrictions will vary between alternatives through the number, size, and location of Protection Priority Areas, Restoration Priority Areas, and General Habitat Areas, and the stipulations (NSO, CSU, etc.) applied to each area.
The controlled surface use restriction guidance (Attachment 2) is displayed in the format used by the BLM for oil and gas lease stipulations, but also should be applied as mitigation for all surface disturbing and disruptive activities except for those actions excluded in the definition of “disruptive activities” and in the applicable RMP. Each RMP will need to document how restrictions and exclusions would be implemented for the management of other surface disturbing and disruptive activities according to applicable program requirements. The waiver, exception and modification criteria for oil and gas lease stipulations should also be considered for documenting how restrictions would apply to other surface disturbing and disruptive activities.
Definitions (Attachment 3) have been provided to ensure consistency within RMPs and potential management actions (Attachment 4) are to be used to help guide mitigation efforts across sagebrush habitats and may be used to help develop or differentiate various alternatives.
Findings from the effects analysis will largely determine which proposed alternatives can achieve the desired sage-grouse habitat and population objectives. Monitoring should continue after an alternative is selected to evaluate whether management actions are meeting these desired population and habitat outcomes and adaptive management implemented as applicable. Although, BLM may not control enough surface or subsurface to completely maintain desired habitat conditions in some landscapes, the intent of this guidance is to provide enough flexibility for the identification and management of habitat areas unique to each field office while still meeting the overall sage-grouse habitat goal identified in Attachment 1. Each RMP should also consider alternative adaptive management actions that may be undertaken in the future if decisions on federal lands or those of neighboring state or private land owners reduce the possibility of achieving BLM sage-grouse habitat area and population objectives. In addition, RMPs should identify how boundary adjustments will be made to priority, restoration, and general habitat areas and how corresponding management actions will be implemented after approval.
During the planning process, consideration for a multitude of factors, including previously identified Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Sage-grouse Core Areas and BLM identified Key Habitat Areas (see Attachment 3), should be used to help designate areas as a protection, restoration, or general area. Although sage-grouse should be the primary resource planning teams use to designate areas, other resources (large game winter habitat, other sagebrush obligates, sensitive status species, etc.) may be benefited by the stipulations provided in this template and should be included as justification for the designation and extent of protected areas. Further guidance and additional information to help in the analysis and implementation of this policy is provided below for each management area.
1)      Protection Priority Areas
Within Protection Priority Areas, the focus is on the entire landscape and not just a buffer around sage-grouse leks. These are the highest quality areas for sage-grouse and the objective is to maximize and enhance their potential to support populations. Therefore, all sagebrush habitats within the boundary are important regardless of distance from a lek. This approach allows some flexibility in how actions would be evaluated but it is important to consider the most current research in analyzing effects and mitigation. The attached management actions (distance and timing restrictions, noise limits, etc.) should be used and considered to mitigate any impacts from a project and give project proponents and reviewers an idea of what is expected in alternatives that consider a CSU rather than an NSO or exclusion/closure. 
In applying and analyzing the cumulative disturbances under Alternative C and D, the calculation should exclude structures or disturbances that through the planning team’s best judgment do not render the habitat unsuitable for sage-grouse (two-tracks, water pipelines, stock tanks and some vegetation treatments). However, depending on the magnitude and/or location any action may be considered a surface disturbing or a disruptive activity (including vegetation treatments, structures, range improvements, etc.) and therefore would be considered in the area calculation.
2)      Restoration Priority Areas
Maintaining populations is a priority for restoration because strong site fidelity in sage-grouse makes natural re-colonization slow and past precedence has documented that translocations into areas with no resident populations are unlikely to succeed. Therefore, in Restoration Priority Areas, the goal is to achieve a balance between ongoing and future resource use so that enough quality habitat is maintained to allow some residual populations in impacted areas to persist. These remnant habitats and populations will likely decrease the time needed for restoration and reclamation efforts. In addition, maintaining populations across the landscape will promote sage-grouse movement and genetic diversity so that sage-grouse habitat areas remain connected to one another in the future. The intent is to have connectivity between populations within and across management zones. In restoration areas, the variation in the density of current impacts may result in difficulties in applying universal stipulations that can meet the objectives for the area. Planning teams should consider options for varying stipulations across different levels/densities of impacts or quality of remaining habitat within the restoration priority areas (e.g., cluster development in the most impacted areas and have more stringent stipulations for the least impacted leks and habitat, or most important lek(s) needed for future restoration of sage-grouse populations).
3)      General Habitat Areas
Although General Habitat Areas may not contain the density of high quality habitat found in Protection Priority Areas and Restoration Priority Areas, they are still critical to the overall success of conservation efforts for sage-grouse. The intent of guidance for general habitat areas is to ensure maintenance of sustainable populations of sage-grouse across the landscape to promote sage-grouse movement and genetic diversity and maintain connectivity. Special consideration should be given to maintaining connectivity to isolated populations regardless of whether they are found in special areas (Protection Priority Areas, Restoration Priority Areas, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Core Areas, Wyoming Game and Fish Core Areas, etc.) or part of the general landscape. These types of populations are especially prevalent at the edge of the species range and may occur at jurisdictional boundaries. Particularly important corridors may warrant more restrictive stipulations.
Timeframe: This policy is effective immediately.
Budget Impact: The effect on the budget should be minimal as this guidance helps provide a consistent approach across field offices to managing a sensitive status species already analyzed in the RMP process.
Background: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been petitioned multiple times to list the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It is currently reviewing whether listing is warranted based on the most recent scientific information and is scheduled to make a determination in early 2010. The Greater Sage-Grouse is on the Montana/Dakotas BLM Sensitive Species List and therefore it is BLM policy for land use planning to result in a reasonable conservation strategy.
The main threats to sage-grouse in Management Zones 1 and 2 are habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from activities such as infrastructure, energy development and agriculture.
In early 2009, a meeting was held in the Montana State Office to discuss the development of the RMPs, how BLM is addressing the management of sage-grouse, and what kind of alternatives should be considered in the planning process. A task group was assigned to create guidance that met four goals: 1) develop goals and objectives to serve as a template for all MT/Dakota RMPs within Management Zones 1 and 2;  2) develop an alternative template, 3) define terminology for consistency within all RMPs; and 4) strive for a common understanding and consistency related to the preparation of the impact analysis.
This guidance is in line with the core area concept developed by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, and conservation efforts for the Greater Sage-Grouse adopted by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the BLM National Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy. It is widely recognized that collaboration across jurisdictions is important for the conservation of a wide ranging species like Greater-Sage Grouse.
Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: No manuals or handbooks are affected.
Coordination: This IM was coordinated with the MT BLM field offices, other BLM state offices, the BLM Washington Office, the NRCS, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
Contacts: David Wood (406) 896-5246, Gayle Sitter (406) 896-5024, Sandy Brooks (406) 896-5262.
Signed by:                                                                                Authenticated by:
Howard A. Lemm                                                                      Janie Fox
Acting State Director                                                                Staff Assistant (MT9200)
4 Attachments
         1 – Sample Alternative Template (8 pp)
         3 – Definitions (6 pp)
         4 – Management Alternatives (5 pp)

Last updated: 03-18-2013