By Thomas Mitchell
This past Friday the Bureau of Land Management released its Record of Decisions on how to protect greater sage grouse across a number of Western states, including Nevada.
The BLM backed off Obama administration plans that would have hampered mining, ranching and oil and gas exploration, saying its goal now is to align BLM plans for managing sage grouse habitat with plans developed by each state. The areas affected in Nevada include Battle Mountain, Carson City, Elko, Ely and Winnemucca.
“The State of Nevada thanks the Bureau of Land Management for incorporating our concerns and respecting the Greater Sage-Grouse habitat plan developed cooperatively by Nevada state agencies and local stakeholders,” said Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak in a statement conveyed by the BLM. “In particular, Nevada appreciates the BLM’s commitment to compensatory mitigation as an integral part of the success of Nevada’s habitat management plan. We look forward to
working closely with the BLM Nevada Office and the Department of Interior leadership to ensure the revised habitat plans are fully successful.”
Compensatory mitigation would allow developers to pay for methods that reduce impact on sage grouse habitat rather than simply being barred from using the land.
In December, then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, according to The Nevada Independent, issued an executive order telling the state’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Council to require energy and mining companies to offset the impacts of their activities on sage grouse habitat by using a conservation credit system.
The BLM had decided it did not have the authority to make such credit systems mandatory, but the new order supports each state’s plan and authority for compensated mitigation.
Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement, “The plan amendments adopted today show that listening to and working with our neighbors at the state and local levels of government is the key to long-term conservation and to ensuring the viability of local communities across the West.”
Brian Steed, BLM deputy director for Policy and Programs, was quoted as saying, “Since the very beginning of this effort, all partners have maintained the need to conserve the sage grouse and avoid the need to list the species as threatened or endangered. We also share a commitment to conservation that does not put the West’s communities at risk and which balances between regulation and access. We believe that the better outcomes for the species under these plans will demonstrate the value of coordinating federal and state authority.”
The BLM will monitor grouse populations and maintain “trigger” points that will require action of some sort. The land agency stated that in Nevada the state’s planned responses to triggering will follow the state’s strategy rather than automatically applying pre-determined response measures.
Of course, environmental groups forecast doom and gloom.
“This could drive the greater sage grouse to extinction and forever damage the American West,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “Trump and former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt are blatantly rigging the system to benefit oil and gas operators. This will spell disaster for the vanishing sage grouse and for hundreds of species that depend on unspoiled public land.”
Lest we forget, early explorers of Nevada in the 1820s and 1830s never mentioned seeing sage grouse — not Jedediah Smith, not John Work, not Zenas Leonard. Nor did Joe Meek, John Bidwell, John Fremont, Charles Preuss, Heinrich Lienhard and James Clyman.
Nor did the first wagon trains in the 1840s. Not until settlers brought in horses, cattle, oxen and sheep, which fertilized the soil and ground the vegetation into the ground, while also improving water sources, did the sage grouse population grow into the millions.
Human activity actually caused the birds to thrive. Fires and lack of predator control have caused the grouse population to dwindle somewhat.
Common sense and cooperation between the federal land agencies and the experts in each state can keep the grouse from returning to a more “natural” population level prior to the arrival of settlers.
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Thomas Mitchell is a former newspaper editor who now writes conservative/libertarian columns for weekly papers in Nevada. You may email Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.