On November 1, 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as lead agency, and the U.S. Forest Service (Service), as cooperating agency, issued the Nevada and Northeast California Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Land Use Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS evaluates six alternatives for land use plan management amendments (LUPA) focusing on conservation measures covering approximately 17.7 million acres of land administered by BLM and the Service in Nevada and northeast California spanning 16 Nevada counties, four California counties, and one county in Idaho. BLM prepared the EIS as part of its ongoing effort to develop a "National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy" that would stretch across 10 western states and cover the estimated 47 million acres of sage-grouse habitat under BLM control.
The EIS’s “preferred alternative” – Alternative D – would restrict some uses of managed lands, including closing such lands to motorized vehicle use in the most sensitive areas, and limiting motorized vehicles to existing routes in others. It would also close most of the federal lands to mining and solar and wind energy development. More stringent alternatives evaluated in the EIS would also foreclose cattle grazing and rights-of-way for energy transmission lines or pipelines.
The draft EIS was prepared in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) determination that protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the greater sage-grouse was “warranted, but precluded.” FWS specifically identified inadequate regulatory mechanisms as a significant threat to the species. The draft EIS notes that changes in the management of greater sage-grouse habitat are necessary to avoid continued decline of the species across its range. The purpose of the LUPA is to identify and incorporate appropriate conservation measures in relevant Land Use Plans to conserve, enhance, and restore greater sage-grouse habitat by reducing, eliminating, or minimizing threats to their habitat, including threats such as wildfire, invasive species, conifer invasion, infrastructure, climate change, grazing, hard rock mining, oil and gas development, and human uses.
In 2010, the FWS issued its 12-month finding for petitions to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The FWS determined that, while listing of the species was warranted, listing was precluded by higher-priority listing proposals.
BLM is accepting comments on the EIS through January 29, 2014. Representatives from BLM and the Service have stressed that elements from various alternatives may be combined in the final recommendations, which is expected to be issued next year. Following completion of the final EIS, the FWS will review the proposed actions to determine whether they are sufficient to avoid listing the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA.