More than 150 show for sage grouse meeting

By Dylan J. Darling The Bulletin Published Jan 7, 2014 at 12:01AM

To comment

The Bureau of Land Management is taking comments on its draft management plan amendment and environmental documents. Comments may be sent by email to blm_or_so_gsg_planning_comments@blm.gov or by mail to BLM-Greater Sage-Grouse DEIS, 1220 SW Third Ave., Portland, OR 97204. Comments are due by Feb. 20.

For more information on the BLM’s plans concerning sage grouse, go to http://on.doi.gov/H9NDe1 or http://on.doi.gov/I26YQt.

PRINEVILLE — Regulations and restrictions designed to protect the greater sage grouse could impact how farmers and ranchers are able to operate in Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon.

So the Bureau of Land Management wants to hear from them, as well as anyone else interested in the bird, as it crafts a sage grouse protection plan, said Joan Suther, sage grouse project manager in Oregon for the BLM. Suther led a public meeting Monday night at the Crook County Public Library in Prineville, the first in a series this week in towns east of the Cascades.

“Now is the time to comment,” she said.

About 150 people turned out for the meeting. The BLM is taking comments on a draft management plan amendment and environmental documents until Feb. 20. In particular, the BLM is looking for questions, new information and reasonable alternatives.

Suther stressed that the agency hasn’t made a final determination on any regulations and restrictions to protect sage grouse.

The BLM released the draft amendment and documents in November as part of its effort to protect sage grouse but not have it listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Following a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until September 2015 to determine whether the sage grouse warrants ESA protection. The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have been working to amend their land management plans in places where the bird is found in order to avoid an ESA listing.

Sage grouse are found in 11 western states. In addition to Oregon, they are in parts of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The BLM and Forest Service have released plans for regions around the west in recent months, with Oregon representing its own region.

While the BLM planned to have the meeting be an open house with small groups meeting with officials, the robust turnout caused Suther to shift the format. She opened the floor for questions, initially saying she’d give them 10 minutes. They went on for an hour.

Questions ranged from how protecting the bird might impact rural economies to why the BLM wants to protect the sage grouse in the first place.

“As far as I am concerned this is another spotted owl land-grab,” said Larry Snyder, 77, a rancher from near Condon.

Among the top threats to sage grouse is habitat loss, according to the BLM.

But, Greg Bedortha, 57, said farming and ranching can actually help the bird.

“It seems like my whole life I’ve been chasing them out of my hay field,” said Bedortha, who has ranched near Paulina since 1971.

Bedortha and others said they think the BLM should look closer at predators, such as coyotes and ravens, and see the impact they are having on sage grouse numbers.

Seeing the backlash from ranchers in the room, Craig Miller, GIS specialist for Bend-based conservation group Oregon Natural Desert Association, said the BLM has a challenge ahead. He said the agency will have to do a “very fine dance” to find regulations and restrictions that are agreeable to the ranching community and to keep the sage grouse off an ESA list.

The BLM plans to hold more evening meetings about sage grouse in the coming days around Eastern and Southern Oregon. The meetings are today in Burns, Wednesday in Ontario, Thursday in Baker City and Monday in Lakeview.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812; ddarling@bendbulletin.com.