SPARKS — The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, United States Forest Service (USFS), is initiating scoping to seek public input on a Forest Plan Amendment to update management direction on the Bridgeport and Carson Ranger Districts to conserve, enhance, and restore habitat for the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment of the Greater Sage Grouse (Bi-State sage grouse). This population occurs in portions of Lyon, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Douglas Counties in Nevada, and in portions of Alpine, Inyo, and Mono Counties in California.
While the Humboldt-Toiyabe is the lead agency for preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the BLM, as a cooperating agency, is also proposing to amend the Tonopah Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Carson City Field Office Consolidated RMP. Both the BLM and the USFS could be adding to or changing some of the regulatory mechanisms in two separate Records of Decisions for the respective agencies that would reduce, eliminate, or minimize threats to the Bi-State sage grouse habitat on lands they administer.
Management directions are the regulatory mechanisms used by the USFS and BLM to implement actions across National Forests and BLM public lands. “The need for the USFS and BLM plan amendments stems from the publication of a ‘warranted, but precluded’ Endangered Species Act listing petition decision for the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment of the Greater Sage Grouse in March of 2010 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS),” explained Bill Dunkelberger, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Supervisor. In the USFWS finding, a lack of regulatory mechanisms was identified as a significant threat to the Bi-State sage grouse.
A planning area map is provided in the scoping document, listed under “Scoping,” at the following Forest website, www.fs.usda.gov/goto/htnf/bssg. This effort covers about 1,371,000 acres of mapped habitat. Any decisions in the Forest Plan and RMP amendments will apply only to Federal lands administered by either the USFS or the BLM. There are around 448,000 acres of habitat on the BLM public lands and 685,000 acres on the National Forest in Nevada and California. The Forest Plan and RMP amendments will be limited to making land use planning decisions specific to the conservation of habitats of the Bi-State sage grouse.
“The completion of the Forest Plan and RMP amendments is the final piece of the package needed by USFWS as they begin their deliberation on whether or not to list the Bi-State sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species,” said Amy Lueders, Nevada BLM State Director.
In the case of this specific sage grouse’s habitat, the proposed management direction could include setting aside areas around sage grouse leks to reduce impacts during its critical use seasons, using vegetation treatment actions designed to improve the sagebrush ecosystems needed by the sage grouse during all parts of their annual cycle, and identifying guidelines for minerals management and other permitted activities to reduce impacts to the sage grouse and its habitat.
The proposed amendments will also consider the current science associated with Bi-State sage grouse habitat, and document all the efforts currently taken to protect and enhance sage-grouse habitat in the Forest Plan and RMPs. New direction developed through this process will include long-term measures that promote sustainable Bi-State sage grouse populations and conservation of its habitat.
Both the Bridgeport and Carson Ranger Districts have been reducing impacts to the sage grouse and their habitat by building protective measures (management direction) into all of their projects for the past few years. These protective measures are not part of the current Forest Plan.
“These management practices are successfully improving the habitat and population of the Bi-State sage grouse,” said Genny Wilson, Carson Ranger District Ranger. Wilson is also a trained wildlife biologist.
Scoping is the first step to amend the Forest Plan and RMPs with new management direction. The public is invited to participate in each step of this environmental analysis.
“BLM, USFS, United States Geological Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, California Department of Fish & Game, and the Bi-State sage grouse local area working group have spent the past two years updating the Bi-State Sage Grouse Action Plan, completing additional radio telemetry work, developing and implementing interim management guidance, and conducting on-going research that was instrumental in developing the preliminary priority habitat map for the Bi-State sage grouse,” Lueders added.
“The Local Area Working Group has collected a lot of data on the Bi-State sage grouse and implemented projects on private and public lands to improve their habitat,” said Mike Crawley, Bridgeport District Ranger. “Without their help and commitment, we couldn’t possibly have accomplished what we have for this species,” said Crawley.
Following the scoping period, which closes on January 30, 2013, the Forest will prepare a draft EIS and publish it for public comment at the beginning of summer. A final EIS will then be published in early fall; the goal is to have Forest Plan and RMP amendment decisions finalized by December of 2013. In the meantime, the USFWS will conduct their research to determine if the species should be listed.
Two meetings are scheduled for the public to learn more about the agencies’ amendments in January: January 9, 2013, from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m., at the Carson Valley Inn on 1627 Highway 395 North, in Minden, Nevada, and January 10, 2013, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at the Smith Valley Library on 22 Day Lane in Smith Valley, Nevada.
Interested parties can find information on the amendment and the sage grouse on our web site at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/htnf/bssg.
Additional Forest Plan and BLM amendments are also underway for the Greater Sage Grouse and have different timelines. The USFWS will not make a determination regarding the listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse until the fall of 2014. Learn more about that effort by visiting the following website: www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/prog/wildlife/greater_sage-grouse.html.
Learn more about the Bi-State sage grouse by visiting the following USFWS website: http://www.fws.gov/nevada/nv_species/sage_grouse.html, scroll down to the heading on the front page under the heading, “Actions/ Current Information,” 03/05/10, “Questions and Answers: 12-Month Finding for the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment of the Greater Sage-Grouse.”
Substantive formal comments must be written, comments submitted to, or oral comments recorded by, the responsible official or his designee during an opportunity for public participation and attributed to the individual or entity providing them (36 CFR 219.62). For this proposal, the opportunities for public participation are the scoping comment period referenced in this news release and the 90-day comment period that begins when the Notice of Availability of the draft EIS is published in the Federal Register.
Learn more about this release by contacting Jim Winfrey, Forest Service Project Leader, at 775-355-5308.