Sage Grouse and Snowmobiles
By Scott Jones, Western Chapter Chair and CSA VP
The management of the Greater and Gunnison Sage Grouse have been the basis of a lot of interest over the last few years as both have been proposed for listing on the Endangered Species list and both the Forest Service and BLM have proposed significant management changes for a lot of uses on millions of acres of public lands in Colorado. It is difficult to locate a state in the Western US that will not be impacted by habitat management decision. While snowmobilers consistently recreate on snow that is numerous feet deep and completely burying sagebrush, the recent BLM planning now addresses snowmobile usage of the alleged habitat areas. Unfortunately BLM failed to tell us how they wanted to manage snowmobile usage in the areas and why their management changes were needed for usage and areas that the Grouse has not used for multiple decades. As frustrating as this is, we are not alone in our frustration as much of the analysis from both USFWS and BLM completely lacks a scientific basis.
We have been working hard and have succeeded in forming many new partnerships in the process, including energy developers, ranching, local government, and user groups who have been effectively managing the Grouse for long periods of time and are opposed to the management that is being proposed as they know it is ineffective. We were thrilled to see that many of these user groups and interests completely mirrored our concerns for management. Governor Hickenlooper recently provided a detailed letter to the USFWS and BLM on these issues and requesting that CPW and other local managers be allowed to continue to manage the grouse, as their track records for benefitting the grouse and creating stable populations is impressive.
I wanted to touch on a couple of our concerns for Grouse management:
1. Snowmobile usage should not be an issue as once the sagebrush is buried the grouse can no longer use it as habitat. That needs to be clearly stated in management decisions.
2. The BLM is proposing to limit surface disturbing activity to a 3% or 5% standard managed on a mile square basis, and include all routes and trails as a surface disturbing activity. There is no basis for either number and effective management has found a designated trail system with seasonal closures around active leks to be highly effective.
3. BLM simply lacks the resources and expertise to manage the grouse moving forward. Imposing management standards that have no chance of success will lead to more restrictive management of the Grouse in the future after there is no benefit to the Grouse obtained from current management.
4. The economic analysis of proposed management changes is simply inaccurate if it has been provided at all. This is both illegal and improper under NEPA and ESA requirements.
5. Predation of Sage Grouse by ravens, coyotes and other predators appears to be a major issue as research indicates that in some areas 70-80 % of grouse deaths are directly related to predation. No one wants to address this problem and jumps to management of uses that will never of set these predation impacts.
I appreciated that the Governor was willing to step up and address the management of millions of acres of public lands in Colorado. We think this is an important ally to have echoing the concerns that we have been voicing in comments for the last several years. We believe the Grouse and recreation usage of habitat can occur in the same area and the scientific research supports this position. Hopefully the federal agencies will move forward with effective management of the grouse and address the true threats to the species.