ELKO — The 17 counties of Nevada joined forces to tell the U.S. Forest Service that they want land management plans to be restored to a previous status pertaining to the conservation of greater sage-grouse. The Nevada Association of Counties, including Elko County, submitted comments to the agency Jan. 4.
“By working together, we can maybe increase or magnify our voice when it goes to the federal agency so that they know it is not just an isolated comment,” said Elko County Manager Robert Stokes.
The Forest Service is seeking public comment through Jan. 19 regarding greater sage-grouse land management issues that could warrant land management plan amendments in the forests of Western states, including Nevada. On Jan. 4, the agency filed a 14-day extension for the public comment period originally ending Jan. 5 because it “may be insufficient for comment preparation from all interested parties,” according to a notice in the Federal Register.
The agency will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement based on a March 2017 decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The courts found that the Forest Service did not provide enough information for meaningful public participation in the process that led to land management amendments in 2015. To comply with the court order, the Forest Service is considering amending the 2015 sage-grouse plans.
“The public is encouraged to help identify any issues, management questions, or concerns that should be addressed in plan amendment(s) or policy or administrative action,” the Forest Service states.
In response, NACO’s letter outlines six specific issues that Nevada counties would like addressed.
“You don’t always know what the reception will be,” Stokes said, “but hopefully it will open up the lines of communication.”
NACO requested that the Forest Service consider state-specific plan amendments rather than a “one-size fits all decision,” the letter states.
The group also requests the removal of sage-grouse focal areas, which were “arbitrarily designated without public involvement between the draft and final [environmental impact statement], according to NACO.
Eliminating the net conservation gain requirement in favor of site-specific mitigation is also on the list.
The counties asked that the supplemental environmental impact statement include a socioeconomic analysis for the sage-grouse focal area mineral withdrawal.
Another issue presented was the reduction or elimination of livestock grazing in the name of sage-grouse conservation. Lack of grazing, the letter states, led to fuel buildup that contributed to large-scale fires.
The counties also request that the Forest Service analyze the effect of depredation and disease on the bird population. “Many changes throughout the west have created artificial conditions that have increased predator populations,” according to the letter.
In conclusion, Elko County and the other NACO members “strongly disagree” with the decisions that led to the 2015 land use amendments, and they write to “request any amendments and decisions related to sage grouse decisions be revoked and forest plans be restored to a prior status before the sage grouse debacle occurred.”
At the Jan. 3 meeting when the Elko County commissioners approved submitting the draft comments from NACO, commissioner Jon Karr encouraged individuals to submit comments.
“It’s surprising how few people send in comments,” he said.
Public comments can be sent to:
Sage-grouse Amendment Comment
USDA Forest Service Intermountain Region
Federal Building 324 25th St.
Ogden, UT 84401
Comments also can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 801-625-5277.