Late last week Gov. Butch Otter’s task force on sage grouse completed its recommendations for a conservation plan to help the bird on the verge of listing as an endangered species.
At its heart its task was to develop regulatory mechanisms that would convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that enough was being done to prevent listing.
The main tool it proposed was the designation of a Sage-Grouse Management Area with three zones with different levels of restrictions. In core habitat big infrastructure projects like transmission lines, wind generation plants and airports are prohibited except for limited exceptions. Important habitat is slightly less restrictive and general habitat is very flexible.
In the top two zones only protection of human safety and structures takes precedence in fire protection. It proposes grazing assessments to start in the core habitat to ensure the birds are protected.
It also has proposals to limit invasive species West Nile Virus and other threats to the birds.
The plan won’t be enforced by the state but actually the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. It would be added to existing BLM and Forest Service management plans in the state.
That allows Idaho to get around the fact that counties, not the state, have jurisdiction on transmission lines and most energy development. The only place the state has jurisdiction on energy is oil and gas and there is little or no interest from oil and gas explorers in Idaho’s sage grouse habitat.
A two-week public comment period will begin in late June, and submission of a final plan to the federal agencies is targeted for mid-July.
“The task force members have done a great job putting together options for protecting sage-grouse without the draconian restrictions that would be required by an endangered species listing,” Otter said. “I will continue consulting with them throughout the upcoming public review and comment process – the result of which will inform the State’s final plan for submission to the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture.”