WYOMING – The Forest Service released its proposed changes to sage-grouse habitats in a draft environmental impact statement that reduces the size of Wyoming’s general and priority management from its 2015 plans.
The draft EIS was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 4, opening a 90-day public comment period that would end on or about Nov. 3. In the meantime, the Forest Service has scheduled a public comment open house on Oct. 23, 4 to 7 p.m., at the Pinedale Library.
While the format of the draft EIS differs from the Bureau of Land Management’s separate states’ resource management plan amendments, both agencies have worked together to create similar management changes across Wyoming, according to the executive summary.
The Forest Service’s draft EIS contains four separate land-use management amendments, one unique to Wyoming. It follows Gov. Matt Mead’s (and precious governors’) executive orders for greater sage-grouse protection in light of its near listing as an endangered species in 2015.
Overall, the Forest Service’s draft EIS proposes changes in how the agency looks at a “desired condition” to describe “specific social, economic and/or ecological characteristics of the plan area or a portion of the plan area toward which management of the land and resources should be directed,” states the draft EIS’s executive summary.
“The affected plans occur within five western states: Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah,” said Bridger-Teton National Forest spokeswoman Mary Cernicek in a release. “The purpose of the proposed changes is to improve the clarity, efficiency and implementation of the current greater sage-grouse plans, including promoting landscape-scale alignment with state efforts.”
For example, Wyoming’s sage-grouse habitat designations are unique to the West with mapping “connectivity” and “winter concentration” areas. Neighboring states and Wyoming all map general habitat management areas and a version of “priority” areas. Sagebrush focal areas would be eliminated from all management plans and added to “priority” habitat. Habitat management area maps will be updated and revised as needed; adaptive management will be realigned with the BLM and state systems.
Across Wyoming, the current number of acres in priority habitat management is 381,200 that would be reduced to 317,700. General habitat management areas now hold 533,700 acres that would drop to 514,200 acres. Wyoming’s unique priority “core” habitat area of 309,200 acres are not transferred as such to the proposed management plan. “Connectivity” habitat of 68,800 acres would drop to 6,400 acres, according to the draft EIS.
The total Forest Service acreage protected now is 983,700 acres that drops to 838,300 acres under its preferred option.
“Priority, connectivity and general habitat management areas may contain non-habitat,” the executive summary states. “Management direction would not apply to those areas of non-habitat if the proposed activity in non-habitat does not preclude effective sage-grouse use of adjacent habitats.”
Also, livestock grazing in some habitat would not be based on specific forage use and stubble heights but on the used area’s conditions, it says.
The Forest Service and BLM’s efforts to change sage-grouse management across western states overlapped after the BLM released its draft EIS in May with a comment period closing Aug. 2. The Forest Service had also released its notice of intent to prepare a draft EIS with a comment period that the agency then extended to run another two weeks through Aug. 15.
A review of the Forest Service’s draft EIS process showed hundreds of comments – many of them form letters – were submitted that ranged widely and often contrasted in opinions of how the agency should oversee many aspects of greater sage-grouse protections.
Many opposing viewpoints are noted in topics of economies, grazing, sagebrush focal areas, public access by vehicles, disturbance caps, invasive weeds, mineral rights and seasonal restrictions.
People with questions about the proposed amendments and process and with comments on the draft EIS can attend the Oct. 23 open house, 4 to 7 p.m. in the Lovatt Room. Information stations will be set up and at 5 p.m., Forest Service staff will make a short introduction.
To read and comment on the Forest Service’s draft EIS, go to https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r4/home/?cid=stelprd3843381. For more information, contact Sandra Underhill, Capitol City Coordinator, at 307-777-6087 or John Shivik, national sage-grouse coordinator, at 801-625-5667 or [email protected]