ELKO — The status of sage grouse is still in the air, but residents had a chance to learn about — and weigh in on — ideas to save the bird from an endangered species listing.
About 60 people packed into a conference room at the Shilo Inn Wednesday night for an informal gathering hosted by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service regarding a drafted regional sage-grouse conservation plan. In the plan, a number of options are under consideration, and the BLM is collecting feedback until Jan. 29. Eventually a final version will be developed to guide regulation of sage-grouse habitat.
Posters were available throughout the room for residents to view that displayed maps, different plan options and other pertinent information. Agency representatives were in attendance and available to discuss the issue with residents one-on-one or in small groups.
Joe Tague, the BLM Nevada branch chief for renewable resources and planning and project lead, encouraged residents to submit their comments without delay.
“The timeline is critical,” he said.
The Greater sage-grouse species is under consideration for an endangered or threatened listing in 2015, which many people worry will impact the landscape of areas such as Elko County which have large swaths of sage-grouse habitat.
The BLM is looking for comments that go beyond whether someone dislikes an option, he said. The public isn’t being asked to vote on which of the draft’s outlined actions it prefers.
“A vote is not a substantive comment,” he said. “It gives us a flavor of public sentiment, but not much more. What we’re focusing on is what conservation action can we take so the sage grouse can persist.”
Instead, he said, a useful comment would inform the BLM of an option it hadn’t considered, perhaps based off new information, he said. Residents can also tell the BLM which actions they prefer across all options.
The BLM will only accept written comments, which includes electronically submitted letters.
Tague said he was pleased to see residents attend the open house.
Although the BLM was pleased with the turnout, not everyone was as enthusiastic about the meeting’s format.
Former Assemblyman John Carpenter said an open hearing would be a preferable system, in which the BLM would discuss the options before the public and allow comment.
“They should tell us what they’re doing and let us comment on it. That’s what a meeting’s about,” he said. “This here’s just a social deal, and they don’t even have any drinks.”
Along with his doubts about the process, Carpenter doubted the agency’s desire to keep the bird from being listed at all. He believes the issue was a deliberate excuse to clear people from the land.
“These people don’t give a damn about the sage grouse. All it is is for control. They want to get control of the people that are using the public land and get them off,” he said, outside the conference room. “They want to get the cowboys and the miners and recreationists and everybody else and get them off.”
BLM Elko District Manager Jill Silvey refuted Carpenter’s assertion that the BLM was in favor of listing sage grouse as endangered or threatened.
“That’s clearly not our objective,” she said.
County Commissioner Grant Gerber expressed concern that the BLM would actually read and consider all the comments. In his experience, he said, public information sessions such as Wednesday’s meeting, are simply to placate people in opposition.
Both Gerber and Carpenter said despite their lack of faith in the system, they would submit a comment before the Jan. 27 deadline.
Carpenter asked Tague why the BLM wasn’t focusing on reducing sage-grouse predators as a means for salvaging the bird’s populations.
“We are not set up for predator control,” Tague responded. He said that is primarily a state responsibility, but the BLM does occasionally partner with agency’s that engage in predator control.
Rich Redfern, president and CEO of Mexivada Mining Corp., said he’s been reading through the entire draft, which is more than 1,000 pages. He’s concerned that a listing would be devastating for business. Redfern did appreciate the agency’s approach to working collaboratively among themselves and with other cooperating partners as well as allowing local businesses to provide input.
The agencies are hosting open houses in seven cities throughout Nevada and California. A similar meeting is scheduled tonight in Winnemucca.
The draft environmental impact statement impacts Nevada and northern California. Four other similar EIS’s are being developed in other areas with sage-grouse habitat, Tague said.
After the BLM reviews public comment, it will develop a proposed plan to be drafted around June. That will be followed by agency review and a 60-day governor’s consistency review and a protest period. The agency is aimed to public a record of decision Sept. 30.
All information displayed at the open house is available online at www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/prog/wildlife/great_sage-grouse.html.