The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) has announced a 90-day comment period on proposed amendments to six Resource Management Plans (“RMPs”) and associated draft Environmental Impact Statements (“DEISs”) designed to protect the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). In 2015, BLM finalized RMPs that addressed greater sage grouse conservation efforts across ten states. The six RMPs that are the subject of this latest comment period address restrictions on energy development and other activities in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Northern California, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah for the benefit of the greater sage grouse. This announcement follows BLM’s October 2017 announcement of a public comment period for reconsideration of the RMPs. In April 2018, the proposed amendments to the Wyoming RMP leaked to the public. Amendments to RMPs addressing greater sage grouse conservation in Montana and portions of North and South Dakota are expected at a later date.
In general, the amendments to the RMPs are intended to bring the RMPs into closer alignment with individual state practices and interests. Aligning state and federal interests has been an ongoing focus of Department of Interior (“DOI”) Secretary Ryan Zinke and the proposed amendments adhere to DOI Secretarial Order 3353, which focuses on reconciling federal management plans with state management practices. According to DOI Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the specifics and magnitude of the amendments to the six RMPs vary depending in part on input from the relevant states.
Amendments to the RMPs may have implications for the greater sage grouse’s status under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). Over the course of the RMPs’ development, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) had been considering extending ESA protections to the greater sage grouse in response to listing petitions from conservation groups. USFWS relied heavily on the RMPs in reaching its determination that the greater sage grouse did not warrant protection under the ESA. The greater sage grouse’s ESA status could again come under scrutiny should these amendments be finalized. The BLM announcement states that the public comment period for the six RMPs and DEISs will close on August 2, 2018.