Forest Service comment period closes on Zinke’s federal sage-grouse mandate | TheFencePost.com

Forest Service comment period closes on Zinke’s federal sage-grouse mandate

-Western Values Project

WHITEFISH, Mont. — The time period to submit public comments on six state sage-grouse management plans administered by the U.S. Forest Service is over. The results of the comment period will determine if the state-based, cooperative plans will be amended after a similar abbreviated public process on sage-grouse management plans was conducted by the Bureau of Land Management a few months ago.

"We hope the Forest Service will listen to the majority of people, not just special interests, as they analyze public comments. Sage grouse and sagebrush habitat help fuel $1 billion in economic activity in rural western communities," said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project. "Risking the sagebrush landscapes for special interests will put our western way of life at risk, everything from ranching to hunting could be in jeopardy. We need to let the sage-grouse management plans work before we start picking winners and losers."

Secretary Zinke and the BLM have been scrutinized by western groups and governors for amending 11 state sage-grouse management plans at the request of the oil and gas lobby. Western Values Project opened an investigation into the revisions after an industry lobby group wish-list memo was leaked which showed that the majority of the changes came directly from the lobby group and was the catalyst for Secretary Zinke's efforts to roll back the cooperative plans. Western governors have strongly objected to some of the proposed amendments, such as captive breeding and population counts.

Interior recently issued instructional memorandums to regional BLM offices that no longer require administrators to consider key sage-grouse habitat in the oil and gas leasing process. Western Values Project's research found that many oil and gas leaseholders in sagebrush habitat have ties to Secretary Zinke, his political staff and the oil and gas lobby group pushing for the dramatic changes.