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Sage grouse management,
jobs, habitat at stake;
environmental protections may curb ranchers’ grazing rights
  By LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 1/16/14
     LAKEVIEW — Concerns about the potential effects of a sage grouse management plan on private and public lands in Lake County were voiced during a well attended public meeting in Lakeview Monday night.

   The Bureau of Land Management late last year released a draft plan for managing sage grouse in a region that includes five Oregon counties, including Lake County. Overall, states in the plan include Nevada, Idaho, California, Utah and Montana. The focus of Monday’s meeting, one in a series being held throughout Eastern Oregon, was the BLM’s Oregon Sub-Region Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement.

   Joan Suther, sage grouse plan project manager from the BLM’s Burns office, said the draft plan was spurred by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in 2010 determined the greater sage grouse face “significant threats” because of existing and potential threats to sage grouse habitat.

   Suther said the draft has six alternatives, from a “no action” alternative that continues existing policies, alternatives largely influenced by environmental groups that would severely curtail grazing, an alternative based on Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommendations, and a preferred alternative that combines elements of various alternatives.

   Following a brief presentation, the focus was a question answer session for the about 120 people at the meeting. Suther emphasized comments need be submitted in letters or emails to be considered in developing a final plan. A recurring theme among people voicing concerns was why ranchers are being targeted with the potential loss of grazing lands, while no habitat improvements include predator control. Jeffrey Dillon, endangered species manager for the FWS, said threats from predators such as ravens, eagles, hawks, badgers and coyotes exist but are less significant than threats from wildfire, grazing, weeds and juniper encroachment.
A rancher asked why there are proposals to eliminate livestock but not wild horses, insisting, “Grazing is grazing. Why single out cows?”

   Others questioned the need for AECs (areas of critical environmental concern) and additional natural research areas, in which grazing and other activities are prohibited, when several already exist. One speaker said including the Beatty’s Butte area would effectively close off cattle grazing from the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, where cows have been removed since the 1990s, and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, where grazing permits have been bought up by environmental groups.  

   Speakers also questioned if local economics are being considered.

   Stewart Allen, a BLM social scientist/economist, said implementing the plan could result in the loss of 750 jobs in the five Eastern Oregon counties but said the plan has no specific county-by-county estimates. Allen said the current studies do not include potential impacts to schools and communities. He noted three of the five Eastern Oregon counties — Lake, Malheur and Harney — are regarded as low-income counties.

   Allen, Suther and others applauded several speakers for their comments and said the plan needs fine tuning, which is why the public sessions are being held. Substantive written comments must be submitted by Feb. 20 and can be either mailed to: BLM — Greater Sage-Grouse DEIS, 1220 SW Third Ave., Portland, OR 97204, or send by email to blm_or_so_planning_comments@ blm.gov. People with questions can contact Suther at 541-573-4445. The planning document can be viewed at  http://on.doi.gov/J6h42H  .  

   “We’re expecting the final plan to change and we will have good rationale to base our decision on,” Suther said, noting attendance at the sage grouse hearings has been substantial.

   Suther said a final plan is expected this summer. Following a review by the governor’s office, a record of decision will be filed. If a decision is made to list sage grouse as endangered in October 2015, it will take another year to receive comments and re-evaluate the listing before a final decision is implemented in October 2016.



Review of habitat land management
     Lake County Commissioners have agreed to partner with Harney County to help pay costs for a professional consulting firm to review and comment on the Bureau of Land Management’s Oregon Sub-Region Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement.

   The review and comment will be done by Mason, Bruce, Girad Associates and is being organized by Harney County. Cost for the review is $17,000. Three other Eastern Oregon counties that could be impacted by the sage group plan will also be asked to share costs. The BLM’s preferred alternative would retire about 118,000 acres of rangeland in Eastern Oregon with 60,000 to 70,000 acres in Lake County, according to John O’Keeffe of Adel, the Oregon Cattlemens Association president-elect.

  Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

   The Sage Grouse is well-named, for it is found only in areas dominated by big sagebrush.

  Photos courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife


Studying at-risk habitat
     Lake County has 120 known leks, or places where sage grouse gather to attract mating females.

   Craig Foster, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Lakeviewbased biologist, said trend counts are done on 16 leks three times a year while the remaining leks are visited on an alternating basis every five years. He said population studies consider such variables as weather in determining the rate of change.

   Jeffrey Dillion, endangered special division manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Portland office, said Lake County’s Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge had three leks that each drew 125 or more male sage grouse in the early 2000s, but no longer exist.

   Although Hart Mountain has been cattle-free for 23 years, he said sage grouse numbers have declined. Despite the larger number of predator birds, such as ravens, hawks and eagles, he said FWS will only consider making changes to factors that


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