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Editorial: BLM's sage grouse plan is good compromise

Published November 3, 2013 11:12 pm

Unique bird deserves protection
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The latest plan for greater sage grouse protection appears to take the best from both the too-restrictive recommendation of conservationists and the anything-goes approach of Utah's state conservation plan for the unique birds.

In setting aside a 4-mile buffer zone around the indigenous birds' leks — the areas where the bird stages its late-winter mating rituals — the Bureau of Land Management recognizes the impact of oil and gas drilling. Other things disturbing to the birds, such as gravel pits and communication towers, get a 1-mile buffer.

But by allowing more noisy human activities at times when the grouse are away from the leks, the BLM is rightly working to provide necessary protection without prohibiting all drilling and motorized recreation in grouse habitat.

The BLM plan would permit almost any activity in the birds' habitat outside lek-buffer areas, although only under certain circumstances that guarantee enough total habitat acreage. Facilitating multiple use on federal public land is, after all, the BLM's mission.

The state plan would have done little if anything to maintain current numbers of sage grouse, let alone help the birds regain numbers in areas where they have disappeared due to oil and gas drilling and all-terrain-vehicle use.

Rather than protecting the grouses' leks, he state plan would allow development on top of leks.

The iconic sage grouse will be placed on the Endangered Species List in 2015 if a workable plan is not adopted to provide adequate habitat for them. The BLM is trying to avoid that happening. But restrictive federal oversight would be preferable to allowing the Utah plan to decide the sage grouse's fate.