The Greater Sage-Grouse as he performs his ritual strut. Males have an esophageal pouch, which is inflated by the bird as it sucks in air. Once the pouch is inflated, it looks like a greenish-yellow balloon. As the cock steps forward, he brushes his wing feathers against his stiff breast feathers, making a swishing sound. Then the male stops and abruptly releases the trapped air, emitting a low pitched "blooping" sound.
The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their February meeting. Rod Player was welcomed as the newest member of the council. Bruce Wilson will remain as chairman for 2012 and Gary Petty is the vice-chairman. The board approved the guidelines in the bylaws which state the council should have no more than 11 members and no less than seven. The board currently has 11 members.
The first agency report dealt with sage grouse. David Waller is a wildlife biologist for the Bureau of Land Management and has worked with sage grouse in Montana. He passed out maps which showed the areas where sage grouse are found. Right now the BLM is operating under an interim plan which outlines procedures for maintaining healthy habitat for sage grouse. This interim plan will be in effect until the final plan comes out in 2014.
Waller said there is cooperation between the BLM, Division of Wildlife Resources and the forest service. They work with the DWR when projects are being considered and implemented.
"In Emery County there is only a very small area where sage grouse are found. One on the West Tavaputs and two areas on the forest. Sage grouse have a muscular gizzard, so their diet consists of only soft foods. They eat insects and sage brush leaves. Sage grouse live longer than most grouse with a life span of eight years. In Emery County there is only a miniscule amount of BLM land that has sage grouse. We work with the forest service in the working group."
Some of the lands council members attended the sage grouse open houses held recently around the region. Petty said they couldn't ananswer any of their questions at these meetings. He attended the Richfield meeting. He is most concerned about whether there are any plans to introduce sage grouse in new areas. If sage grouse are planted in areas, that could close out grazing in those areas for four-six years.
Waller said yes, that would be a real concern, but there are no plans at the current time to introduce sage grouse anywhere, but to maintain the sage grouse already in the area.
Sherrel Ward, council member asked what we should be doing at this time in regards to sage grouse. Waller said now is the time to comment about the sage grouse and what your concerns are. The BLM needs to hear from all stakeholders.
Another issue with sage grouse is they don't do well when they are raised in hatcheries.
Val Payne, public lands consultant, said it is important to express comments now. The ultimate goal is the keep the sage grouse from being listed on the endangered species list. Grazers need to weigh in. Predator control needs to be addressed concerning those animals that feed on the grouse. Those involved in mineral development need to speak up because preserving sage grouse breeding areas can sometimes interfere with oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Payne said there needs to be emphasis placed on the good work and habitat projects Utah has been involved with for several years in maintaining existing sage grouse leks as well as encouraging new leks to form. The nation as a whole has not been as active as Utah in preserving these areas.
Waller said he has done a lot of work in Carbon County on sage grouse habitat projects.
Pam Juliano the representative from Rep. Jim Matheson's office said the open houses left a lot of unanswered questions. She said the sage grouse working groups have been very helpful and give out informative information on what's being done to preserve sage grouse as well as future projects. She encouraged everyone to comment and get involved in the process.
Waller said the Interim Management document is on the national website for the BLM. Comments submitted here go to Reno, Nev. where they are consolidated. The sage grouse working groups provide information to the Utah State University and they in turn provide information to the state of Utah. Waller said this is especially important because different areas of the state have different concerns. One area has a problem with cheat grass and in other areas the main concerns are oil and gas developments in habitat areas.
Payne pointed out the working groups have no authority, they are just information gathering groups to give feedback to those in authority positions.
The map prepared by Waller showed population locations for the sage grouse with information from the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Payne said one problem that is occurring is the information on the sage grouse isn't up to date, so projects that are trying to go forward are being told they have to wait until data is complete. One of these projects is the Sigurd to Red Butte transmission line. The same thing with the Alton coal mine expansion. Permits are not being issued and projects are not going forward due to incomplete information on the sage grouse.
Waller said yes, this can happen and projects would just have to wait but he hopes the agencies can work together to keep projects moving along before the final document comes out in 2014.
Guy Webster, lands committee member said he sees the whole thing as an effort to close things down in the name of the sage grouse. Any maps made should go off the latest data.
Waller said the information he used to create his map came from DWR sources. When he overlays the data on his map it includes sage grouse breeding areas on all lands including BLM, forest service, state lands and private. The information doesn't stop at ownership/stewardship boundaries.
The BLM announced the comment period for Greater Sage-Grouse Scoping has been extended. The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service are seeking public comment on issues that should be addressed in Environmental Impact Statements and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements that will evaluate and provide greater sage-grouse conservation measures in land use plans in 10 Western states. To address requests for additional time to provide comment, the two agencies have extended the public scoping period an additional 45 days and will continue to accept scoping comments through March 23.
Comments may be submitted to the BLM by any of the following methods: Eastern Region web site:http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/sagegrouse/eastern, email: firstname.lastname@example.org