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After BLM directive, Sandoval administration sends questions about future of sage grouse plans

Daniel Rothberg
Daniel Rothberg
EnvironmentIndyBlog
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Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this month, questioning how the sage grouse would be affected by the agency’s rollback of requirements to offset industrial damage to public land. The Aug. 2 letter centers around the state’s responsibility to restore habitat for the greater sage grouse, an imperiled bird that could face a listing under the Endangered Species Act, a move that would bring many rural Western economies to a halt.

In order to avoid a listing in 2015, Nevada and nine other Western states reached a compromise deal with the Obama administration, whereby states would implement plans to restore habitat for the large and controversial bird, best known for its fickle and flamboyant mating rituals.

The plan in Nevada rests on the concept of compensatory mitigation. If a developer of a mine or a power plant wants to build where there is sage grouse habitat, they would be required to pay to offset, or mitigate, their disturbance on the land by supporting sage grouse habitat elsewhere.

With recent action from the Trump administration, the future of that plan has faced uncertainty.

In late July, the Department of Interior, which manages the BLM, announced that it would ban “compensatory mitigation” in almost all cases. The letter from Sandoval’s policy director, Pam Robinson, asks the BLM whether it will still be able to “endorse and encourage” the state’s mitigation plan, which several companies including Barrick and Newmont, have participated in.

“Nevada has worked toward conservation of sage-grouse habitat, in part to prevent its listing under the Endangered Species Act,” Robinson wrote. “Better management, protection and restoration of sagebrush ecosystems are crucial to preventing the listing of greater sage-grouse in the future. Those goals are accomplished through compensatory mitigation and are often comprised of projects that include protection of valuable resources such as mesic meadows and natural springs, removal of pinion and juniper and the restoration of degraded habitat.”

Policy directors for bipartisan governors in Colorado, Oregon and Utah separately expressed concerns about how the Trump administration’s actions on mitigation could affect their sage grouse plans, the Associated Press reported Monday. A BLM spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the agency, which manages nearly half of all land in the West and about 67 percent of all land in Nevada, would work with Western governors and consider “adjusted” plans.

In Robinson’s letter, she noted that the Sandoval administration largely supports separate changes to the sage grouse plans that the BLM released last year. Those changes, the BLM argued, would make the plans more flexible, but others worry they could dilute the plans too much, leading to a listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act as early as 2020.

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