The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the state of Wyoming reached an agreement on a land management plan that will address the management of the greater sage grouse population.
The Lander Resource Management Plan covers 2.4 million federal acres of land in Freemont County, WY and could a preview of how the BLM intends to address sage grouse conservation throughout Wyoming and the West, the Casper Star Tribune reported.
The Greater Western Sage Grouse is found in sagebrush areas of the western United States (including mining regions in Nevada and Wyoming) and in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. The sage grouse are considered an indicator species for the larger sagebrush ecosystem, which federal regulators claim is being threatened by mining, oil and gas and renewable energy development.
The release of the Lander Resource Management Plan, which will dictate land use practices on BLM land in the region for at least the next two decades, drew praise from Gov. Matt Mead, local representatives and a host of environmental groups.
The plan comes in advance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's expected decision in 2015 on whether to list the sage grouse as an endangered species.
Energy companies and agricultural groups have opposed listing the bird as endangered and that would make large swaths of land off limits.
The BLM plan incorporates the important elements of Wyoming's sage grouse conservation strategy, establishing areas of priority habitat identified by Wyoming Game and Fish, creating buffer zones around occupied leks, or sage grouse mating areas, and establishing seasonal work stoppages during the bird's nesting season.
Mead, who has boasted about his fights with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during his re-election campaign this year, thanked BLM for working with the state and said BLM's adoption of Wyoming's plan shows the state is leading the way in balancing energy development and conservation.
"It suggests strongly we are on the right track," Mead said. "I view it as a positive step in that regard."
The plan included a master leasing strategy, which identifies federal parcels open to energy development and those that are closed to mineral leasing. Three areas were identified for intensive mineral development. They included the Gas Hills Uranium District, where BLM recently permitted a new in situ uranium mine, Beaver Creek and around Lysite.
BLM and state officials said the strategy will provide certainty to companies looking to work on federal land.
Conversely, the plan makes land around Dubois off-limits to development. It also establishes a National Trails Corridor around the California, Mormon Pioneer and Oregon trails where energy development is prohibited.