Gunnison and Greater Sage-Grouse (including the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment) Habitat Assessment Policy

IM2022-056
Instruction Memorandum

United States Department of the Interior
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
https://www.blm.gov

September 13, 2022

 

In Reply Refer To:
1610, 1734, 4100, 4180, 6700 (HQ230) P    

EMS TRANSMISSION 09/14/2022
Instruction Memorandum No. 2022-056
Expires:  09/30/2025                  

To:                   State Directors (California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana/Dakotas,

                        Nevada, Oregon/Washington, Utah, and Wyoming) and Center Directors

From:              Assistant Director, Resources and Planning

Subject:           Gunnison and Greater Sage-Grouse (including the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment) Habitat Assessment Policy

DD: 09/30/2024

Program Area: Wildlife Management, Threatened and Endangered Species Management, Rangeland Management, Riparian Management, Fuels Management, Vegetation Management, Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation.

Purpose: This Instruction Memorandum (IM) provides guidance to support consistent completion and use of sage-grouse[1] habitat assessments and offers assistance by the National Operation Center to complete assessments. This IM continues  policy, IM-2018-021, Gunnison and Greater Sage-Grouse (including the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment) Habitat Assessment Policy through replacement with this IM to continue completion of habitat assessments.

Administrative or Mission Related: Mission related.

Policy/Action: Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices should complete, or reference, a sage-grouse habitat assessment for BLM undertakings that may impact sage-grouse and/or sage-grouse habitat[2], as appropriate. BLM offices shall complete, or reference, a site-scale sage-grouse habitat assessment when completing the wildlife/special status species portion of land health assessments and evaluations in sage-grouse habitat (Attachment 1).[3] BLM offices with GRSG Plan Amendments will utilize the indicators and desired habitat conditions in the GRSG Seasonal Habitat Objectives table (Habitat Objectives Table) to assess each monitoring location within seasonal habitats for site-scale suitability, as directed by the land use plan (Attachment 2).

All sage-grouse habitat assessments shall follow the Technical Reference 6710-1 Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment Framework (HAF)[4] (and any subsequent updates) and HAF training materials, tools, templates, and forms on the Science in Practice Portal.

Roles and Responsibilities for Multi-scale Assessments

Sage-grouse habitat assessments are conducted to better inform decision-makers about the availability and condition of critical components of sage-grouse habitat across multiple scales.

The HAF describes four scales of assessments (broad-, mid-, fine-, and site-scale), three of which are analyzed in the assessment process (mid-, fine-, and site-scale). The assessment process includes data analyses, suitability ratings, and summary reports. The mid-scale and fine-scale assessments are to be completed by BLM interdisciplinary teams (ID teams) led by state offices, in coordination with district and/or field offices. The site-scale assessments are to be completed by BLM ID teams led by district and/or field offices, in coordination with state offices. Completing these assessments includes the responsibilities for data collection, data analyses, quality assurance, and data management. Within 30 days of receipt of this IM, state offices are required to provide the HQ-230 National Sage-Grouse Coordinator a prioritized list of where HAF assessments (mid-, fine-, and site-scales) are needed. The primary point of contact will coordinate these assessments with the National Operations Center (NOC) HAF support team.    

When considering suitability for a monitoring location and/or other scales, the BLM ID teams must look across all the indicators and use multiple lines of evidence as described in the HAF to rate habitat suitability (suitable, unsuitable, or marginal).

As the final stage in the assessment process, a summary report will be developed for each scale of habitat assessment (i.e., mid-, fine-, and site-scale) as well as for habitat assessments conducted within a management unit (e.g., an allotment, or a project analysis area). Scale-specific reports will be compiled into a full multi-scale Habitat Assessment Summary Report, which provides a comprehensive synthesis of all scales of habitat assessment. Each multi-scale Habitat Assessment Summary Report will synthesize information from a single mid-scale analysis area and all available nested fine- and site-scale analysis areas. District and field offices will coordinate with state offices and the NOC when writing scale-specific habitat assessment reports for any assessment area.

Mid-, fine-, and site-scale boundary delineations require detailed coordination within BLM and with partners. The NOC and applicable BLM state offices will work collaboratively to complete the process for cross-jurisdictional boundary delineations. The NOC HAF support team is available to assist state, district, and field offices with the multi-scale assessments, including conducting mid-, fine-, and site-scale analyses, and drafting summary reports.

The Use of the Habitat Assessments

As described above, BLM offices shall complete, or reference, a site-scale sage-grouse habitat assessment when completing the wildlife/special status species portion of land health assessments and evaluations in sage-grouse habitat. The core and supplemental indicator data collected as part of the standardized Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) Strategy shall be used to inform the site-scale indicators (terrestrial, lentic riparian and wetland systems, and lotic/aquatic).  Further guidance regarding datasets to inform site-scale habitat assessment indicators and information on updating Habitat Assessment Framework site-scale forms can be found in Attachment 3. 

Also, BLM offices should complete, or reference, a sage-grouse habitat assessment for BLM undertakings that may impact sage-grouse and/or sage-grouse habitat, as appropriate. Where habitat assessments have been completed, BLM offices shall use the site-scale habitat assessment and should use the fine-scale and mid-scale assessments in the NEPA compliance process for an action to inform:

  • The affected environment and impact analyses of issues in NEPA documents supporting the issuance of authorizations, permits, or leases in sage-grouse habitat.
  • Options among the alternatives for the planning, siting, design, and monitoring of actions to maintain and/or improve sage-grouse habitat.

Accommodations for Incomplete Fine Scale Mapping

Where mapping of the fine-scale boundaries and/or the seasonal habitats within them is incomplete and it is necessary to complete the wildlife/special status species portion of a land health assessment and evaluation or utilize a site-scale assessment in an authorization or other action within sage-grouse habitat as described above, the office shall complete a site-scale assessment within the management unit or analysis area. This accommodation should be used sparingly, and offices should expeditiously work with applicable partners to complete or refine the fine-scale boundaries and/or seasonal habitat delineations.

Prioritizing and Completing Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessments

Multiscale HAF reports should be completed across all sage-grouse habitats in all sage-grouse states by the close of Fiscal Year 2024. BLM offices should prioritize completion of the habitat assessments in areas where the results will help to plan proactive conservation and restoration efforts and/or will expedite authorizations, permits, or leases (e.g., the required site-scale assessments). Prioritization criteria should be consistent with the applicable land use plan and the priorities for completing land health assessments and evaluations to support authorizations. Consideration of adequate and available data and coordination with State and other partner entities could also inform the selection of priority areas for sage-grouse habitat assessments. Additional consideration could include areas where habitat information is limited, where changes in management may have a high likelihood of improving sage-grouse habitat, or where a GRSG Plan Amendment has changed as a result of tripping an adaptive management trigger.

Tracking Completed Habitat Assessments

State offices shall track the areas where the assessments are completed and report accomplishments to the Headquarters Office (HQ-230) on an annual basis. All habitat assessment summary reports and associated data, regardless of analysis area, will be stored in a standardized format within the designated and centralized HAF EGIS file directory (maintained by the NOC).  These reports and data will be made available to all BLM employees.

Timeframe:  This IM is effective immediately.

Budget Impact:  The completion and use of sage-grouse habitat assessments will require an investment by offices in data collection, data analysis, and report writing. Funding is provided to offices annually for each of these functions, including through labor allocations (e.g., through L1170 sage-grouse) and funding for monitoring (e.g., through L1610 AIM funding and L1170 sage-grouse funding). Additionally, the NOC has capacity to support offices with this workload, including mid-, fine-, and site-scale analyses and the drafting of summary reports. Full implementation of the benefiting subactivity model[5] will help to ensure sufficient funding is available for these habitat assessments.

Background: Sage-grouse habitat assessments determine the suitability of habitat for sage-grouse at the mid-, fine-, and site-scales. These assessments inform land management decisions in sage-grouse habitat and support the agency’s evidence-based decision-making processes.

The HAF is a consistent, scientific approach to assess sage-grouse habitat, which was first envisioned in the early 2000s by BLM and partners. Beginning in 2015, with completion of BLM Technical Reference 6710-1 (the SG HAF), the BLM headquarters, NOC and state offices developed training and associated tools to assist in completion of multi-scale habitat assessments. In 2016, BLM issued policy (IM-2016-144) to use TR 6710-1 for sage-grouse habitat assessments and provided direction on data management, report writing, and situations when habitat assessments are required. The BLM issued IM-2018-021 to re-affirm requirements and provide additional clarifications to assist with habitat assessment completion. In 2020, due to additional requests for clarification, the agency produced "BLM Guidelines for Implementing the Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment Framework" (see “Science in Practice Portal” link above).

The BLM will continue to develop and review trainings as well as explore new tools and data to help streamline habitat assessments. The BLM will continue to collaborate with State wildlife agencies, other Federal agencies, research partners, and other relevant entities in advancing the assessment process and in sharing results. The BLM is currently working with partners to revise the HAF, which may warrant further revisions to this IM.

Manual/ Handbook Sections Affected: Manual Section 4180 and Handbook 4180-1, Manual Section 6500, Manual Section 6600, Manual Section 6840.

Coordination: This IM was coordinated within HQ200 Resources and Planning, NOC Division of Resource Services, BLM state offices, and the Office of the Solicitor.

Contact: Please direct questions or concerns to the Division Chief HQ-230, Wildlife Conservation, Aquatics & Environmental Protection, or the National Sage-Grouse Coordinator. For technical assistance contact the NOC.

 

Signed by:                      Authenticated by:
David Jenkins                Robert M. Williams
Assistant Director          Division of Regulatory Affairs and Directives,(HQ-630)
Resource and Planning

 

3 Attachment

  1. Flowchart on Incorporating the Results of Site-Scale Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment into Wildlife/SSS Standard in the Land Health Assessments and Evaluations (1p)
  2. Habitat Objectives (1p)
  3. Datasets to Inform Site-scale Habitat Assessment Indicators and Information for Updating Habitat Assessment Framework Site-scale Forms (2 p)
 

[1] For the purposes of this IM, sage-grouse includes Gunnison sage-grouse and Greater sage-grouse, including the Bi-State distinct population segment.

[2] For the purposes of this IM, sage-grouse habitat is defined based on best available science as determined by the BLM office conducting the assessment. At a minimum, GRSG habitat encompasses all habitat management areas identified in the GRSG Plan Amendments. Habitat can also be defined according to USFWS Critical Habitat designations, sage-grouse conservation plans, State habitat delineations or peer-reviewed scientific information.

[3] It is important to note that the four fundamentals of rangeland health described in 43 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 4180.1 are not specific to a use, but to the condition of the lands that BLM manages. As such, sage-grouse habitat assessments should be completed to support the agency’s consideration of a variety of land uses; not only for livestock grazing.

[4] Stiver, S.J., E.T. Rinkes, D.E. Naugle, P.D. Makela, D.A. Nance, and J.W. Karl, eds. Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment Framework: A Multiscale Assessment Tool. Technical Reference 6710-1. Bureau of Land Management and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Denver, Colorado.

[5] BLM Fund Code Handbook, H-1681-1 1777, Chapter 3.