June 21, 2010
In Reply Refer To:
6711, 9217 (230/400) P
Instruction Memorandum No. 2010-149
Expires: 09/30/2011 

To:                  Assistant Directors, State Directors and Center Directors

From:               Director 

Subject:            Sage-grouse Conservation Related to Wildland Fire and Fuels Management
Program Areas: Wildlife, Special Status Species, Fire Operations, Fire Planning and Fuels Management
Purpose: The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to provide guidance and resources to augment protection of sage-grouse habitats and populations on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jurisdictions. This IM provides best management practices (BMPs), access to habitat maps, and guidelines applicable to fire and fuels management functions. It replaces IM No. 2008-142 (Change 1), and is consistent with recent BLM sage-grouse guidance (IM No. 2010-071).
Policy/Action: The Gunnison sage-grouse and greater sage-grouse are BLM-sensitive species that are to be managed to promote their conservation and to minimize the need for listing under the Endangered Species Act in accordance with the BLM’s special status species policy (BLM Manual 6840). Fire and Fuels Management functions will contribute to this conservation through planning processes, utilizing sage-grouse maps, fire management decisions, and applying best management practices. While protecting sage-grouse habitats and populations is critical, firefighter and public safety remain our highest priorities. 
Wildland Fire Operations
The BLM will strive to maintain a high initial attack success rate while being cognizant of sage-grouse habitats by: 
  • Utilizing available maps and spatial data depicting sage-grouse habitats in suppression response and staging decisions;
  • Using Predictive Services to help prioritize firefighting resources and, to the extent possible, pre-position those resources to optimize an efficient response in critical habitat areas;
  • Improving firefighter awareness of the importance of sagebrush habitat;
  • Continuing the use of resource advisors familiar with local sage-grouse habitat needs during initial and extended attack;
  • Emphasizing habitat conservation during resource allocation decisions, such as in local and geographic area multi-agency coordination group meetings; and
  • Applying local, state, or national-level Best Management Practices (Attachment 1). 
Resources Available to Wildland Fire Operations
States will ensure that the following resources, which depict sage-grouse values, are made available and utilized in dispatch centers, fire management pre-planning, and during fire operations.

1.      Sage-Grouse Resources for Fire Operations – These resources, consisting of maps, best management practices, and spatial data, are available at the toolbox section of the BLM Fire Operations webpage (http://web.blm.gov/internal/fire/fire_ops/sg/index.html). In addition, maps are available which overlay currently occupied habitat and interim key habitat. These maps are available both at a regional scale (“Range-wide”) and at a state scale (“State-specific”). The interpretation of “Currently Occupied Habitat” and “Interim Key Habitat” polygons are provided below. Both maps are available in letter (8 ½ x 11”) and wall size versions.

A.     Maps and Data Layers

o   Broad-scale Maps (.pdf format)

Broad-scale maps depicting greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. Depicts both currently occupied and key habitat areas range-wide.  

o   State-specific Maps (.pdf format)
Maps depicting key greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse (per Colorado Division of Wildlife) habitat. Overlays currently occupied and interim key habitat areas at a more defined state by state scale.
o   Priority Habitat Map – in development (.pdf format)
Map in development that will display areas of high priority conservation value, based upon sage-grouse population data.

Upon completion, these maps will replace the “Interim Key Habitat Maps”.

o   Spatial (GIS) Data layers
Raw GIS data of the above maps which can be used to develop customized local maps in GIS.
 B.     Applications and Interpretations of Habitat Polygons
o   Currently Occupied Habitat
May be used when flexibility and opportunities exist for planning in advance of fire-fighting efforts.

Displays intact sagebrush communities where greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse are likely to occur. 

o   Interim Key Habitat
Aids in initial attack and setting fire management priorities.

A prioritized subset of the “Currently Occupied Habitat Map”, and as such indicates highly valued habitat.

2.      The Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) – This web-based application is the documentation system for wildland fires. Within the WFDSS, the Interim Key Habitat and Currently Occupied Habitat maps will be viewable when assessing the fire situation within the “critical habitats” menu. For fires escaping initial attack, managers will consider the location of sage-grouse habitats in developing incident strategies. These considerations will be documented within the WFDSS report and communicated to the Incident Management Team assuming control of the incident.
3.       State-Level Toolboxes – States managing sage-grouse habitat will develop specific resources that reflect local conditions. These may include resource advisor contact information, local maps, fuels project design criteria, and best management practices. State-specific memoranda may be issued to clarify requirements and business rules.
Fuels Management
The fuels treatment prioritization process will address sage-grouse habitat conservation in project design, treatment location, and documentation. State fuels programs will utilize local toolboxes, national resources (listed above) and Fuels Management Best Management Practices for Sage-Grouse Conservation (Attachment 2) to identify, enhance, and conserve sage-grouse habitats. Fuels management objectives may include protecting existing patches, modifying fire behavior, native plant restoration, or otherwise creating landscape patterns which most benefit sage-grouse habitat. Sage-grouse objectives from Land Use and Fire Management Plans will be used as a framework for fuels project design. States may elect to issue detailed criteria regarding patch sizes, cover requirements, or other habitat parameters in fuels project design.
Timeframe: This IM is effective immediately.
Budget Impact: Moderate costs will be associated with implementing suppression strategies outlined in this IM. Tactics that minimize loss of sagebrush generally require both aviation and ground-based resources for success. Minimal costs will be associated with habitat considerations in the design of fuels management projects. 

Background: In November 2004, in response to population and habitat trends, the BLM published the National Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy (the BLM National Strategy). The BLM National Strategy emphasizes partnerships in conserving sage-grouse habitat through consultation, cooperation, and communication with: the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, state wildlife agencies, local sage-grouse working groups, and various other public and private partners. In addition, it set goals and objectives, assembled guidance and resource materials, and provided comprehensive management direction for the BLM’s contributions to the ongoing multi-state sage-grouse conservation effort. This IM reflects continued implementation of the goals set forth in the BLM National Strategy.

Since completion of the BLM National Strategy, additional peer-reviewed research analyzing the impact of wildland fire, and consequent fire management strategies on sage-grouse, has been refined.  The BLM will consider this body of research in the context of all fire management activities on public lands. While wildland fire has been identified as one of the key factors contributing to the loss of sage-grouse habitat, there are opportunities to reduce habitat loss by taking appropriate action prior to, and during, wildfire events as outlined in this IM. Although the focus of this IM is fire management, wildland fire is neither the only, nor necessarily the most significant threat to the sage-grouse habitat. Other sage-grouse related program guidance has been, or will be issued. 

On March 23, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that listing the greater sage-grouse (rangewide) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions. In view of this finding, it is of even greater importance that the BLM continues to work to improve the actions identified in the BLM National Strategy, where this IM is focused on the fire management component. The BLM will continue to work with its partners to ensure that fragmentation and degradation of sage-grouse habitat does not continue to the point that sustainable sage-grouse populations can no longer be supported. In addition, a status review for Gunnison sage-grouse is in progress.
Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: This memorandum replaces IM No. 2008-142, Change 1.
Coordination: This IM has been coordinated between the Fire and Aviation Directorate (FA-100 and WO-400), Fire Operations (FA300), Fire Planning and Fuels Management Division (FA-600), the Renewable Resources and Planning Directorate (WO-200), and the Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor.
Contact: Questions may be directed to Lynda Boody, Deputy Assistant Director, Fire and Aviation at 202-208-4147, Timothy A. Murphy, Deputy Assistant Director, Fire and Aviation (NIFC) at 208-387-5446, or Howard Hedrick, Division Chief, Fire Planning and Fuels Management at 208-387-5153.
Signed by:                                                                   Authenticated by:
Robert V. Abbey                                                          Robert M. Williams
Director                                                                       Division of IRM Governance,WO-560
2 Attachments