An updated draft record of decision for Greater sage-grouse habitat management for Utah and surrounding states is now available, according to John Shivik, national sage grouse coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service.
“We have been working with the BLM, State, and private landowners to come up with win-win management practices for sage grouse,” Shivak said. “Each state has different conditions. The policies have to be reflective of each state.
“The State of Utah is the authority on wildlife management, but the Forest Service manages much of the habitat for sage grouse,” he said.
On Aug. 1 the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced proposed changes to sage grouse management plans for Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah after seven months of workshops with local governments.
“The Forest Service continues to promote our multiple use mission while ensuring conservation of greater sage-grouse habitat,” said U.S Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We are sharing the stewardship of the lands with western state governors — their extensive participation throughout this process was the key to landscape-scale conservation that aligns our policies and practices across local, state, and federal jurisdictions.”
Part of the process included an open house last December on sage grouse management at the Tooele County Health Department.
“In 2015 we rushed and tried to get some plans together as adequate regulatory mechanisms to save the bird. We concluded the greater sage-grouse did not need to be listed as an endangered species,” Shivic said in December at the Tooele meeting.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has worked the last few years to improve sage grouse numbers in the Sheep Rock Management area. In 2017 UDWR counted 28 males there.
“To give you context, 2006 was a recent high when 190 males were counted,” said Jason Robinson, upland game program coordinator for the UDWR.
The Sheeprock Management Area covers 611,129 acres in Tooele and Juab counties with the Town of Vernon in the middle. Of that acreage, 325,280 is Bureau of Land Management land, 92,398 is U.S. Forest Service land, 82,740 is private, 34,131 is Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA), and 684 is DWR.
“The Sheep Rock Mountains in Tooele County is the primary area for sage grouse, but it’s not the biggest area in the state for them,” said Ben Nadolski, political analyst for UDWR.
“We’re monitoring the birds out there,” he said. “The best time to count males is in the spring when they are strutting and displaying their plumage. They become easy to see and they are pretty loyal to their leks.”
He said the major problem with dwindling numbers of sage grouse is wildfire and predation from foxes and ravens.
“Ravens eat the eggs,” he said. “Private landowners are also concerned with ravens and their newborn lambs.”
One of the key changes to federal policies on sage grouse include revised grazing guidelines to shift from rigid, prescriptive standards to common sense, locally-driven strategies.
According to the Forest Service, the 2019 plans align state and federal conservation standards, so ranchers and other land users have one set of standards instead of dealing with multiple, complex layers of restrictions. The new changes also align mitigation options with state-based systems so mitigation strategies on how to ensure no net-loss of habitat are locally supported, not a one-size-fits-all standard.
The 2019 plans maintain the goal of preventing any net-loss to critical sage grouse habitat, but no longer require the unreasonable standard that every action increase conservation, according to the Forest Service. This enables local stakeholders to determine what strategies to implement where and how while still conserving sage grouse habitat.
Shivic said a final policy should be adopted in January or February. He said the record of decision is found on the Forest Service Intermountain web page with a link to sage grouse. Shivik welcomes comments from the public at 801-625-5667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.