More plans gel for sage grouse protection
By late April, the sage grouse—namely the unique subspecies near Mono Lake—could finally be designated as threatened. In the meantime, new policies to protect the charismatic bird are making their way down the bureaucratic pipeline.
The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has released a draft Record of Decision, which amounts to a plan that won’t become official until a public comment ends in April, as well as an environmental impact statement about land-use guidelines surrounding the bi-state sage grouse. The Forest Service area in question extends south of Carson City to the forest boundary north of Bishop, California.
The plan suggests that grazing and mining in that area will be limited when legally possible, and that invasive grass species could be contained and suppressed. New campgrounds, trail heads and the like will be limited or prohibited, and tall structures that could harbor grouse predators banned. The list goes on.
“A lot of them have been in practice for some time, either as best-management practices or recommendations on some level,” Humboldt-Toiyabe land management planner James Winfrey said of the recommended policies. “This document just puts them into one place where everybody can go and say, ’OK, here are the standards and guidelines.’ … We do forest-plan amendments of varying scales all the time, but this one is fairly comprehensive and focused on the sage grouse.”
The BLM’s 2016 federal budget requests include a $46 million funding increase for conservation efforts surrounding the greater sage grouse and the sagebrush steppe. It’s an ongoing conversation, really, and one that runs the gamut from environmental concerns to various business interests.
The Bi-State Pinyon-Juniper Expansion Forum, a public event next week in Minden, is an appeal to ranchers as well as the general public. Left unchecked, pinyon-juniper woodland “will overtake the sagebrush, and essentially eliminate that habitat that is essential for sage grouse,” said forum organizer Steve Lewis, an affable sort who refers to the trees’ combined names as “PJ.”
Management of their growth is by no means mandatory on private land. Even on public space, approval is necessary under the National Environmental Policy Act, said Lewis, who’s with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
“It’s not required,” he explained. But it’s necessary, “if we are to protect and maintain and even possibly rehabilitate sagebrush ecosystems.”
Those ecosystems don’t cover sagebrush alone, for the record; they also include meadows, where grouse chicks find insects and flowering plants for sustenance in warm weather.
“But in the wintertime, they all depend primarily on sagebrush leaves,” Lewis said. “That’s their exclusive diet.”
“We’re losing lots of sagebrush from wildfire,” he continued. “Wildfire is wiping out tremendous acreage of sagebrush. We’re losing it from wild horse populations that are above their appropriate management level, and we’re losing it from PJ expansion. It’s a combination of a lot of things that is threatening the habitat of sage grouse, but this forum is really concentrating specifically on the best ways for treating pinyon-juniper.”